Sunday, February 15, 2009

BEX Oversight Committee Meeting

The BEX capital building program has an oversight committee which is volunteer and actually has some very knowledgeable folks serving on it. But naturally, if you only meet once a month and count on Facilities staff to give you information (both adequate and useful not to mention mostly true), good luck.

So I hadn't gone in awhile and this is one of those meetings where not too many outsiders go so there was a lot of glancing in my direction. (One staff member asked me if I was at the right meeting.) A couple of committee members happen to remember me and told me (1) I should keep asking questions and (2) that historic rebuilds are killing the district. On the latter, this member said that either the state/city (whoever said a building is historic) should subsidize rebuilds if the building is to stay in use safely. The amount of problems that arise from these rebuilds (from surprises not in the original drawings/blueprints, if they even still exist) and their costs make for very difficult rebuilds. (Garfield is a good example.)

From the minutes of the last meeting (this is interesting reading);
  • Change orders on Garfield are still being negotiated. There are pending claims (not yet analyzed by the district staff) for upwards of near $6M. The district's lawyer said "there's probably something to it" but that the district won't have to pay near that amount.
  • The ground around Hale is very boggy (no kidding; they are building on a bog)
  • most of the projects had delays because of the weather in late December and may pay overtime to get them done on time
  • Ingraham and its trees are still an issue (more on this later). According to the minutes, there is no cost overrun predicted (but that's sure what they told the newspapers).
  • Apparently there was some sort of confusion over talks with the city about the sidewalks at Denny/Sealth. But there was this odd sentence (you tell me what you think it means) that I need to get sorted out, "There was an understanding with the City, because of funding an extra FTE, that the District would get priority. This does not seem to have happened. This delay is beginning to affect schedules." Did the City fund an FTE for the district in exchange for something?
  • State Audit - The audit is looking at all aspects of capital projects form 2005 to July 2008 and looked at most major projects. This covers a fair number of projects (about 9). In Feb. there will probably be an exit conference where the preliminary report will be seen in its entirety with a final report issued late Feb/early March. A public hearing (in Olympia) is part of the process (I'll sure be there if I can). So far there are 19 recommendations from the State (so far? Holy smokes, Batman!). Here's from the minutes: "The auditors are out-of-state and are sometimes not knowledgeable about local processes and laws. There has definitely been a learning process for them in terms of language and processes." This makes the auditors sound a little like hicks who wandered into the big city. Well, we'll see. The minutes also reflect that one of the biggest companies used by the district for capital projects, Heery Int'l, seems to be balking at giving access to their proprietary database system. Also funny; "The District wants this to be a positive experience and the result a constructive report that the District can act on." I'd hope so but I doubt the recommendations are there to be positive.
From the meeting itself:
  • Garfield - There seem to have been some problems with the doors functioning (?). They seem to be having problems getting subcontractors to come and finish up the punch list (I guess big or small, no contractors ever want to finish the punch list). The district had to send them threatening letters. There was also mention of "community issues" around security there.
  • Hale - one project is having radiant flooring heat which troubled a couple of committee members who mostly got pooh-poohed on their concerns. The problem is that the tubing used will be inaccessible after the concrete is poured (although there will be a shut-off for each tube).
  • Hamilton - Really odd discussion over the reuse of the old window panes. Committee members kept asking why they would reuse them instead of using double-pane (up-to-date windows) but the project manager insisted they had to use the old ones and they were good. Committee members persisted in their questioning and did admit there would probably be 5% less energy savings using the old windows. He also said the new windows would cost millions more. The manager kept saying how delicate they were and how all the crew was warned about being careful around them. Hmmm. They also had a $350,000 grant from OSPI for sustainable buildings.
  • Ingraham - still working on appeals. There's a hearing date in early April with a decision coming 2 weeks after that. They seem sure of approval to cut the trees down but it may end up at trial.
  • South Shore - seems to be moving along well. Their finish date is July 8th which is a very fast completion date. I can't believe how fast this project is moving.
  • Denny-Sealth - Don Gilmore again mentioned holding the land Denny currently sits on for a future elementary to be built but that there would be a new playground and playfield.

4 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

The grotesque lack of oversight provided by the BEX Oversight Committee continues to astonish me.

snaffles said...

What oversight?

The questions on the Hamilton windows was brought up frequently before final approval...amazing how that is working out.

And Ingraham, tell the papers and the public one thing, tell the Board and the committee another..pretty much sums up the entire Ingraham project..misguided.

Charlie Mas said...

The primary failure in the Committee's inability (or unwillingness) to provide oversight lies in their dependence on information from interested parties.

For example, they asked about the stakeholders' response to the co-location of Denny and Sealth and were told, by the architects and the District staff that there was some minor opposition but it had been addressed and was no longer an issue.

This wasn't true, but they didn't have any independent sources of information to either corroborate or contradict what they were told by people who had a vested interest in pushing the project forward.

Worse, even as their sources have been proven unreliable and misleading, they continue to rely on these sources and grant them complete credibility. How is that oversight?

Michael said...

Absolutely amazing that they would actually say "The auditors are out-of-state and are sometimes not knowledgeable about local processes and laws. There has definitely been a learning process for them in terms of language and processes."

While the contractors may be from out-of-state, it does not take a rocket scientist to read the laws of this state. Moreover, the auditors office (the people that actually are state employees and work directly for Sonntag) is involved at every stage of the audit, and review all the work of the contracted auditors. If there is a misinterpretation of the law by the contracted out-of-state auditors, the agency's staff will catch that. The only learning process is the need to learn the convoluted processes of the district - which most district staff don't even understand. And in the end, the auditor's office issues the report, not the contractor. The auditor, Sonntag, takes responsibility for the report.

This sounds like they are formulating a response ahead of a potentially damaging audit - blame the auditor! - they're from out-of-state!! Typical bureaucratic refusal to accept responsibility for major screw-ups.

What the district refuses to accept is that the auditor is not a consultant. The auditor's client is the citizens of Washington.