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Friday, July 16, 2010

Latest BEX Oversight Committee Meeting

This month's BEX Oversight Committee meeting was held at Hamilton Middle School where we all got to go on a tour before the meeting. It was very interesting.

The building looks pretty great. It has an old-school with new stuff kind of feel. Lots of cherry-stained wood which gives it a warm glow. From my tour notes:
  • The building was originally designed for 725 but now can take up to 900 students (and up to 100 of those being Special Education students but they don't know how many will be assigned there).
  • The building administration moved in just this week on Wednesday. Because of that anyone who wants to see their area of the building is to be allowed in. So if you want a look at that part (the south side) of the building, you can go in.
  • It is designed with class "clusters around a general area where there is a sink to wash your hands (if you don't want to go into the bathroom), water fountain, etc.
  • The Special Ed area can be fully self-contained (and the rooms come equipped with their own bathrooms) or work with other classes.
  • It turns out that I didn't fully understand about the reuse of the historic windows. They are not new double-paned but they did get a "dip glaze" to improve their energy efficiency.
  • There is a tremendous panoramic view of downtown and Queen Anne from the 3rd story science rooms. Wow! Speaking of, those science rooms are pretty well-equipped down to the emergency wash station in the corner that you find in most of the updated high school science rooms.
  • We saw the outside "play area". They didn't get a full-sized basketball court but there are a couple. There is an "amphitheater" area right next to the park. This was an area of dispute between neighbors and the district but the staff said the neighbors seem happy with the outcome. There is a path now for someone who uses a wheelchair to be able to access the park more easily. However, the property line is right at the end of the basketball court so technically the amphitheater area sits on City Parks property.
  • There is one band/fitness room that may double up to accommodate more music instruction. There are also a couple of other music rooms.
  • I was surprised to see contour seats in the gym. First, there are very few people who actually fit in those type of seats and second, the way men sit, it is unlikely that just one would fit them. Regular bench seating would have fit more people but that was the choice made. The seating is in Hamilton colors - blue and gold. The lobby area is small.
  • There's a nice Commons area for lunch. The stage is someone small in terms of backstage area. I was told they could seat 300. (Again, another odd choice for seating. The pullout seating has arms which take up more space.) I wonder if 300 is enough for musical events.
  • The library is a nice area but I was told the shelving has to be reconfigured.
This brings me to my overall impression. It is a lovely remodel of an old building and I think the staff and kids will like it. But one overriding thing that struck me is how scaled down it feels in size. They went up to 3 stories to get room but it feels small and kind of narrow. The lockers sit very low as well. I was trying to imagine, even with the cluster set up, how crowded the halls will feel with those large (and growing) middle school bodies. The teachers' restroom door opens right out into the middle of the small hall so I think the teachers will have to be careful especially if there is a passing period. As well, the library and the main office have very low counters, almost an elementary low (and if I think it's low, given my lack of vertical stature, it's low). I'm sure most regular sized adults will notice this right away. It's not bad, just odd.

As for the meeting, they had a number of members absent including no Board member.

The next meeting will be at Hale for a similar walk-thru. Apparently Hale wants 100 security cameras for their school. I had to laugh because what?!? Garfield has maybe 40 (and, of course, there is my constant beef that Roosevelt has zero). I'm not sure what the reasoning is at Hale except it was said that they want to be able to see in every corner of the building. No kidding.

The most interesting things get said at the BEX Oversight Committee meetings. This time it was that Facilities is developing a generic education building specification plan. (Facilities' Don Gilmore said that was one 15 years ago that never got used. Not a single member asked why not. I was dying to ask but you can't at these meetings.)

What this means is that for BEX IV they are going to use one or two plans for the possibly 6 elementaries they plan to redo. (It seems there will be only middle and elementaries work done under BEX IV.) Meaning, more cookie cutter buildings but you get more buildings done for less money because of the use of only one/two plans. They hired...wait for it....a consultant to help with this planning. They have talked to each department - arts, music, Special Ed, etc. - about their needs. A first draft is due by August 1st.

Someone asked about talking about the Garfield charges (the district is still trying to settle contractor claims from Garfield). Bill Martin, the head of BEX projects, demurred, saying they weren't ready but would have a report next month.

I suspect it was because I had alerted the Committee, a member asked to put on the agenda the State Auditor findings on the capital program for small businesses learning how to bid on SPS projects. It was granted and the discussion began.

Ron English, an SPS lawyer, explained that 6 years ago the Board created a policy about helping small businesses do work for SPS. The task was then assigned to then-Superintendent Raj Manhas. Mr. English also explained that the Auditor was troubled that the money for this venture came out of Capital and not the General Fund. Apparently no one bothered to check the law. Oh.

Mr. English was careful to say that the Auditor didn't say the program was wrong but that the uses of the money for it have to be tailored to projects directly for SPS. He also said he had taught some of the classes for the program. (This was jaw-dropping to me because Mr. English is a pretty well-paid employee and to be doing training program classes seems odd even if they do cover some legal issues. Why this is a good use of his time, I don't know.)

He said they would be changing how they ran the program. They have to reimburse these capital funds but he had no idea as of that date how much of the roughly $1.8M spent over the last two years would have to be paid back.

One Committee member seemed to think the Auditor should have sent a letter to the district first (as he claims is the usual course of action) before having put it in an audit as a finding. (Another Committee member told me as we were coming in the building to take the audit with a grain of salt.)

There was some disagreement between Mr. Martin and Mr. English that project managers did not like having to figure out what portion of their project was going to small businesses. Mr. Martin said they did not like it and Mr. English said he never heard that at all. It was a bit of a moment in the room.

One Committee member ended the discussion by saying, "Let's make sure that BEX money isn't being improperly spent on other things." No kidding.

Denny/Sealth update - on budget and on time.

Hale update - a discovery was made that the concrete flooring comes out in a slightly different shade batch to batch (either the manufacturer didn't make this clear to the district or the district missed this). So the district is having them make two big batches and will intersperse the colors. All of the science classes will be in portables for 6 months. There will be no kitchen when school reopens in the fall and no cafeteria until January. They had a brief discussion about doing a job while staff and students are on the site. They said there had been issues especially around dust but that they were able to start the project earlier than if they had needed to wait until Hamilton vacated Lincoln (and now a couple of new elementaries will use it as an interim site).

Speaking of Lincoln, it's getting to the end of its useful life as an interim site. They are nearly to the point where the City will start demanding fixes to it. So those little kids are getting a very down-on-its luck interim site.

Ingraham update - a hearing occurred a week previous to this meeting and the district expects the Examiner to give an opinion of their mitigation efforts. They have gone from wanting to take down about 100 trees to about 27. The neighbors could go back to Superior court and get another injunction which the district doesn't want. I personally feel that the district could have hired someone to facilitate between it and the neighbors as a good-faith gesture but I do feel at this point that the district has given a lot of leeway on the project to make the neighbors happy.

South Shore update - the carpet is all being replaced and there are no issues with getting it done in time for school in the fall. The consensus seems to be that the concrete did not dry long enough and interacted with the carpet adhesive. This seems to be an anomaly for both the manufacturer and the district. They feel they got good help for the parents from the Pediatrics ward at Harborview Hospital. They are going to be extra care in testing for this issue in the future and it is only an issue between concrete and carpet and not concrete and tile.

16 comments:

dan dempsey said...

Melissa wrote:
"One Committee member seemed to think the Auditor should have sent a letter to the district first (as he claims is the usual course of action) before having put it in an audit as a finding. (Another Committee member told me as we were coming in the building to take the audit with a grain of salt.)"

WHAT ???

If the SPS chose to make responses to findings, then the audit contains those SPS responses.

12 findings ... So where should a grain of salt be placed?

Looks like a Salt Mine would be required to cover this audit.

=============

It needs to be noted that lots of minor stuff never makes it into the final audit. Also there were items noted in the audit a year ago that were uncorrected in the recent audit.

Where do these committee members come from? What do they see as their job? Hopefully for most "Pushing Public Relations" does not trump reality.

kprugman said...

This audit was a salt mine on the tip of an iceberg.

kprugman said...

Where's the AG? Out looking for illegals? Snipe-hunting?

seattle said...

Did anyone say what Hale would do without a cafeteria until January? Will there be any food service at all? What about all of the FRL kids? Don't they have to provide them with lunch?

dan dempsey said...

Sack Lunch from food service eaten in the classroom is always the minimum back up action.

TechyMom said...

Dan, just curious... Would that be a reasonable solution for Cleveland too?

Melissa Westbrook said...

No, Rabbit, no one asked or commented. I assume the kids either go off campus to eat (there is at least one place nearby) or bring lunch or, as Dan says, buy a sack lunch at school.

Anonymous said...

Given that the district just hired Carol Rava-Treat's husband (whose has been in charge at Seattle Light for about five minutes and has no school experience) to be the general counsel, compliance in the law is surely to improve.

GT

Melissa Westbrook said...

And no word on who is paying Carol's salary next year? The Alliance paid it last year but I'm sure the district will cough up $145k somewhere.

Stu said...

I just posted on the "open thread," right before reading this post of course.

Why is Hale taking so long? It's been over a year and they're not "preserving" some ancient architecture . . . why is this not done?

stu

dan dempsey said...

TechyMom,

Good question on Cleveland,,,, what other possible or impossible solutions are there other than centralized sack lunch delivery?

Being a STEM school I expect high tech sacks.

Charlie Mas said...

Here we have yet another example of lack of Board oversight, and coming so soon in the wake of the audit.

They are not taking it seriously.

SSDemp said...

Carol R-T is going, gone.

Fyi

Anonymous said...

C R-T had to leave so that her husband could take the general counsel job. Pesky ethical rules. Of course, that he got the job in the first place reeks of nepotism, but hey, maybe his three months at City Light make him the best school attorney ever.

GT

Charlie Mas said...

This is so convenient. As soon as someone has made more promises than they can keep or their promises start to come due, they are replaced. Then all of their promises are voided. A new person comes in and disavows all of the commitments made by his or her predecessor.

Carol Rava-Treat will be blamed for everything that isn't done or was done wrong and we'll be asked to give the new person "a fair chance" to get the job done. They will use this excuse to suppress complaints for another two or three years of inaction.

B8tes said...

What did C R-T do that was worth replacing? Maybe the reason they hired her husband was that he can rub elbows with the same crowd but without the district having to look to a third party to pay his (exorbanant) salary.