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Saturday, June 16, 2007

School District Facilities Management

Because it involves so much money, and because it has been handled so poorly in the past, any piece of news about how the school district is handling property and buildings interests me.

A recent article from the Ballard News Tribune, Tenants Have One Year to Buy School Buildings, provides details about the June 6th School Board vote in which "Five facilities, including the Crown Hill School (Small Faces Child Development Center) and Webster School (Nordic Heritage Museum), were assigned surplus status."

According to the School Board agenda, 10 people testified on this topic, including Maggie Metcalfe, Chris Jackins and Gordon MacDougall. The meeting minutes aren't up on the website yet. Anyone who testified or attended the Board meeting willing to share what you heard?

The details are spelled out on the district website in the Board agenda:
Amendment to Facilities Master Plan (Finance) – The Finance Committee recommends approval of this item which would change the designation of 19 district properties to inventory (14) or surplus (5).

5 comments:

Jet City mom said...

As I mentioned in an earlier post.
Darlene Flynn made a motion that the priority will retain public access for those buildings.( not make them into condos)
While the communities will have one year to state whether or not they intend to buy- it was not one year to arrange for financing and purchase.

I think we remember the Colman building for example, took some time before that was finalized.

Melissa Westbrook said...

There's a lot I could say here based on my experience with the last bond election.

Facilities seems to run on a parallel track from the district. I not sure that academics always drives what happens in this area and it should be. It is the one area where the staff's views are accepted as "expert" without question. (I mean, look at the differing opinions on the math adoptions. If Carla S. is so bright and is the expert, why didn't we all sit on our hands and accept her decision?) I can't forget Danny Westneat of the Times telling me, "I don't care what building the money goes for, I just want the money."

I can only point to the utter debacle that was the Queen Anne High School sale as proof that, yes, we should be looking closely at decisions made about building usage, up-keep and remodelling/renovating. Facilities staff, again like much of the district staff are bright and well-intentioned, but frankly, know where they want the time, effort and money to go and don't want to be questioned about or changed from that path.

I believe we need a citizens' advisory committee (and not just parents but community members as well) to help oversee what happens with facilities. The BEX programs have had some oversight but these are people who either have some expertise but don't want to rock the boat or have little expertise and are not sure what to think. I may be wrong but I believe the CAICEE group did make some sort of recommendation in this direction.

Anonymous said...

Just as Danny Westneat disagreed with your position, so too did the voters of Seattle, as the bond passed. Sometimes we have to put aside our own discontent and understand that the majority rules. It is time to let the bond issue rest. The voters have decided.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I am NOT arguing the bond measure again(note to Charlie, I feel your pain). Reread what I wrote and then tell me about my "own discontent". Virtually none of what I have spoken out about has to do with me personally.

This is about a department that oversees huge amounts of money and activity within the district and, in the past, has proven itself not to always be reliable. It's worth a second look, that's all I'm saying.

Charlie Mas said...

The Facilities Department presents a lot of problems.

They don't seem to know which buildings are habitable and or not. At one point the Facilities people said that Marshall had to be closed due to the poor condition of the building, then they said that the building was fine. Similarly, the District holds McDonald as a perfectly usable emergency site, but no one can move into it because the building isn't habitable. In fact, I have heard people say that Lowell could not be re-purposed as a neighborhood school because the building is in such poor condition. If the building is in such poor condition that it can't be used as a neighborhood school, then how is it in adequate condition to be used by APP and low-incidence special education?

Facilities talks about saving money by not having to fix up closed schools, but that doesn't make any sense. First of all, they are redoing the roof at Viewlands. Second, if they lease a building, then don't they still have to maintain it? The cost of keeping the building in a habitable condition does not go away because there is a community center in the rooms instead of classes.

Facilities doesn't seem capable of prioritizing projects very well. The schools that are in line to get fixed up with BEX III are not the highest priority repairs the District schools need. I don't want to re-open the question about the bond levy, but the spending of the money could go to more urgent needs, such as Marshall, Pathfinder, McDonald, Lincoln, and any other building that the District could use if only its condition disqualified it from use.

Then there is project management. These school renovation projects all go WAY over budget - and not due to unforeseen inflation of concrete, steel, financing, or labor. They go way over budget due to absurdly low estimates, poor planning and changes that add to the cost. That's Facilities, too.

Facilities still can't provide accurate capacity numbers for school buildings. I don't know how the District is supposed to plan assignment without knowing how many students a building will hold.

Facilities is responsible for bolluxing the lease and sale of District property.

Facilities is responsible for the District's policy of deferring maintenance at buildings until they are uninhabitable.

Finally, there is the utter lack of planning. Have you read the Facilities Master Plan? It contains no mastery and no planning. It isn't a plan, it's an inventory - and not a very accurate one.