Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lebo: High School Planning Starts

Yesterday (October 10) was the first planning workshop for the future of Mt. Lebanon High School.

If you attended all or part of the workshop, please share your impressions in the comments. Thanks!
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you've ever seen "The Music Man", you have a good idea of what the meeting was about.
Professor Hill was played brilliantly by Dr. DeJong. The residents fell for his sales pitch and began dreamimg of how wonderful the kids are going to perform and look using his intruments and uniforms.
Unfortunately, once we've paid for all those gleaming instuments and flashy trappings, Professor Hill (DeJong) will in this performance--left "River City", and the kids will still need a band director!

October 11, 2006 11:41 AM  
Anonymous DAS said...

Have you ever seen "The Music Man"? Professor Hill was played brilliantly by Dr. Dejong, and the residents are already dreaning of those gleaming instruments and beautiful trappings for the kids.

October 11, 2006 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, it was LONG day for those of us who attended both sessions. The day session attendees seemed to be mostly teachers and administrators, with a few moms and dads and students. The evening session had more seniors attending, including one in my group who was bewildered as to why any repairs/improvements needed to be made. I wish that a building tour would be included in a future session....

October 11, 2006 12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree that the presentation was short on practical and long on anecdotes, I don't know what the sales pitch was...nothing was really presented. The building needs renovation and the money needs to be spent in a forward-looking way, a smart way.

October 11, 2006 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lets try a different analogy...
You take your car to a dealer because it has some problems. They give you an estimate of repairs and then advise "you might want to consider a new vehicle rather than pouring money into your curent one. It might be financially cheaper, but there won't be any guarantees that something else will fail or break."
So, you bite the bullet and take a look at a used moderately priced Chevy.
Then the sales pitch begins... the salesman sweet talks you. "Yep, that Chevy is not a bad car, but just think how much better you'll feel
in that Cadillac over there. Fine comfortable leather interior, power windows, sunroof. Man your going to look and feel good!
And hey, what about that hi-tech GPS and DVD player?"
"Oh, by the way-- as your salesman, I have no interest in which one you buy."

October 11, 2006 3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't believe there are residents in Mt. Lebanon that can't recognize a sales pitch when they see it.
Know why they didn't present any hard, accurate numbers on remodeling vs building new? That's not the agenda-- they want to get you hooked first! What a pitch-- make the sucker feel inferior, behind the times, cheap, ply on all the emotions, but never, never talk numbers.
Dejong talked a lot about these wonderful buildings and spaces they've been involved with. Certainly they look really great, who wouldn't want a school like that for their kid. But did anyone notice he didn't present one number, SAT score, grade, graduation rate etc. attributable to their affect on student performance!!! If he had indisputable numbers HE'D HAVE GIVEN THEM! Better to scare you that some kid in India was Microsoft's Employee of the Month.

October 11, 2006 4:51 PM  
Blogger Bill Matthews said...

Having participated in both sessions yesterday – I have a couple observations:

It is great just to have a process! We could not do this on our own. The consultant has been around this block many times – so his approach may seem a little cookie cutter – but the schools and master plans it has produced are not one size fits all. It is our responsibility to ensure the product fits Mt. Lebanon.

It is great the process is OPEN! The School Board is highly sensitive to what this project means to the entire Community and very much wants the involvement and input from all stakeholders.

Yesterday we worked with blank slates – yet most (if not all) knew we would not be working with blank checks. I encourage everyone to give the process a chance and engage where you can make a difference.

October 11, 2006 7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, its great that the process is open. If we have to build new, lets do it right. But,lets have ALL the facts and numbers before putting together our Xmas list. As I understand school construction, the consultant gets a percentage based on the project $$$s. The bigger the project the bigger his cut. So he's not completely an unbiased participant as presented.

October 11, 2006 10:03 PM  
Anonymous DAS said...

To Bill Matthews (and anyone else who's interested)-
An open process is great, but to be truly open everyone needs to have all the facts.
The place to start... I suggest looking at (American School & Univsity magazine). Go to articles by topic, then construction/design, then to an article titled "A Final Determination" There is a straight forward financial analysis for comparing rennovation to building new that wouldn't cost the district anything to prepare. Numbers such as cost/sq. ft. can even be checked through, Building Owners and Managers Assoc. (BOMA) and (Building Cost Database).
For me if I had this analysis, it would be an easy decision. If rennovation is even remotely close to building new- I'd opt for new.
As for the Dejong meeting, having put together presentations like that, I know that to evaluate the information, one has to question not only what they said, but what they DIDN"T SAY. I found it curious that while Dejong stated he was unbiased to our decision to rennovate or build, there wasn't one example of a successful rennovation. They do exist and you can find many articles on the web discussing them.
The financial analysis wouldn't have cost the district $75,000 and would have gone a long way toward choosing a consultant. Then bring in the expert to advise on our wish list.

October 12, 2006 8:33 AM  
Blogger Bill Matthews said...

The focus right now is on developing the Educational Specifications. This is an important step.

The engagement with DeJong is under a fixed price contract with the Educational Specifications plan as the deliverable. There is no financial mechanism in place which would encourage DeJong to advocate a bigger or more expensive undertaking.

Of course, for the continued success of his business, there is an incentive to get the answers right more often than wrong. As a Community we need to help DeJong get an “A”.

October 12, 2006 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One objective of the Education Specification Committee meeting was to discuss various aspects of envisioning our high school 25 years from now. (That would be about the time we will have paid off the bond that will finance this project.)
Some highlights of the DeJong presentation include 1) Double-side corridor buildings and departmental organization are passe. 2)Think middle school -smaller subsets of students organized perhaps according to grade, theme,"magnet" school, etc. 3)Think flexibility.

In response to a parent's question, it was stated that a whole new school would cost well over $100 million. What was not said was that a new building would still incur the additional cost of abestos removal, demolition and disposal of existing building.

Questions not really discussed yet might include: Could future schools be overwhelmingly cyber schools? To what degree will public school buildings become obsolete? Could a school system, in conjunction with a more sophisticated cyber school system render specific school districts obsolete? Will staff ratify a " flexible" contract to accommodate this new "flexible" building/educ. specification? Is there a greater cost involved in operating a more "flexible" school?

The challenge remains to address this existing building which is long overdue for renovation: it snows through windows, rains through roofs, and the ventilation system is a disaster.

Hopefully, our community will utilize constuctive dialogue to drive the discussion/sales pitch to set the future course of our district.

October 12, 2006 4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous ask-- the goal is to envision what our high school will be like 25 years from now. A lofty goal indeed, but one one that may be impossible. Bethel fell into trap with the visionary's college campus concept in 1968(?)and are now in the midst of starting their new HS, which had a $30 or 40 million renovation- what 10 years ago.
As Mr. Dejong stated, even the experts can get it wrong (the IBM CEO prediction about computers.) For years we've heard about a paperless society, yet paper consumption increases dramatically each year. About the only thing you can predict is that the future is unpredictable.
Unless the existing building is impossible to rehab and update, we should look very closely at it. There's plenty of space for open classrooms and the visionary stuff.
Historically, Mt. Lebanon has been a fairly economically stable community, we're not going to see a masive influx or decrease in people, revenues etc. Dump $100-150 million into a building and you're going to have a helluva fight next teacher contract, budget meeting and millage increase.
It would be far better to envision what professionals we need to educate the kids, see that they do it and pay them top dollar.
Mr. Dejong also made a pertinent statement in his presentation no one seems to remember, "you can learn almost anywhere."

October 12, 2006 8:13 PM  
Anonymous das said...

Everyone is touting how open this Dejong seesion was.
Think so-- read the following article.

Facility Planning: Add, Convert or Build?

Jun 1, 2006
By James E. Rydeen

One of the more difficult issues facing schools and universities is whether to build a new school or upgrade an existing facility.
Many schools need to be replaced because of poor conditions. Yet, institutions have to consider other issues, such as decreasing enrollments; antiquated, small schools that are inefficient to staff and operate; and converting a building for other uses.
Making the right choice may be difficult to determine because of other concerns: changing educational philosophies, programs and delivery methodology, future mandated programs, and enrollment.
What are the factors that enable some schools to make wise facility decisions? Leadership, trust, confidence, continuity, communication, public relations and justification are important. The administrative team can provide strong leadership that creates trust and confidence; however, because administrators no longer spend the bulk of their careers with one district or institution, continuity and trust may be lacking.
Usually, administrators, planners and architects work together to identify facility needs. Sometimes, these needs already have been identified. Once that has been done, the community needs to be convinced. Involving the community in planning groups helps educate constituents. They should be informed through continual communication.
A comprehensive facility study can provide the facts to justify a project. Among those facts:
• The educational adequacy of the existing facilities to adapt to and accommodate new educational philosophies, curriculums, programs, class sizes, scheduling, delivery methodology and community needs.
• The physical adequacy of academic and non-academic support areas (media center, student commons, food service, and administration) to support increased enrollment.
• The physical condition of materials and systems, structural integrity, code updating for energy conservation, ADA, fire, life safety and health, including mechanical, electrical and security systems.

(FOR SOME REASON WE NEVER GET THIS ONE - my comment See my earlier post on to see how easy simple document could be)

• A total cost analysis of new vs. renovation, value engineering, and life-cycle maintenance and operations costs.

• The physical adequacy of a site to accommodate building expansions, additional physical education and athletic fields, more parking, and automobile and bus traffic patterns.
Continuing to expand a school may lead to problems. The institution may have outdated facilities that require expensive operations and maintenance. The lowest initial cost may be the most enticing, but it may not provide the most effective solution. Sentimental attitudes should not sway a decision that should be based on long-range facility needs.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis.

Has anyone seen a cost analysis? Was anyone allowed to question Dr. Dejong's presentation?
This is an open process, show the audience a lot of pretty pictures, then ask for input on what you'd like to have, no questions asked. Come on!

October 14, 2006 9:55 AM  
Blogger Bill Matthews said...

The ASUMAG site has bunches of good stuff. Dr. DeJong encouraged the group to take the 2 weeks between meetings and read up on this enormous subject and come back ready to work. The ASUMAG site is likely to be one of the many sources of information that will be tapped by members of the team.

Another site of interest is the High School Facilities Project for the State College Area School District.

My first take away from SCASD is that high schools are a huge amount of work to do right – so kudos to the School Board for starting with a process instead of the back of an envelope.

October 14, 2006 3:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does it strike anyone as suspicious that NOT ONE photo or mention of one successful rennovation appeared in the Dejong presentation?
Do you really believe that this process is OPEN?
Was anyone allowed to ask Mr. DeJong a question???

October 15, 2006 8:18 AM  
Blogger Bill Matthews said...

As we begin developing the High School Facility Plan, what items/issues/areas or concern/concepts do you believe should be reviewed and/or considered?

This was the last question the small groups worked on during the 10/10 evening session. I am confident it won't be the last time the question is asked - in one form or another.

There is not any question the procees is OPEN.

The more important question is will we take advantage of the opportunity and get it right?

October 15, 2006 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Mathews-- you need to go back and review at least the evening meeting. There were not any issues allowed to be brought up. Any comments allowed concerned the future visions for the district. Thinking green, open classrooms, security.

October 15, 2006 5:19 PM  
Blogger Bill Matthews said...

I do not remember everything topic that was raised, but in addition to those previously listed, issues of cost, flexibility of the building, flexibility of staff, considerations for the broader community, efficiency and effectiveness were raised during the evening. None of these were particularly well developed or flushed out. I believe the idea was just to get them on the table.

Of course, TAXES came up as well – something to which almost all are sensitive. Dr. DeJong acknowledged taxes were one of the “5 Ts” that would be tackled in the project. Timing and Turf (not The Turf) were two others and I can’t remember the other two – but they were spot on.

Each attendee will receive a report of the evening and the same will be posted to the district web site for the community’s benefit. High School Renovation is the top shortcut on the left of the District's home page.

I remain a supporter of the process and respect others uncertainty. By nature I am a skeptic as well. But let’s have at it.

October 15, 2006 10:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Harris--
Through all these post, I believe everyone agrees that an open process is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, I don't believe that is what is going on here.
The Tuesday night meeting was a well controlled and choreographed presentation (watch DeJong's signals to his partner during audience participation) designed to deter any discussions of the existing facility.
Before this process can be truly open we need:
• A total cost analysis of new vs. renovation, value engineering, and life-cycle maintenance and operations costs.
and if not now, at least early on
• The educational adequacy of the existing facilities to ADAPT to and accommodate new educational philosophies, curriculums, programs, class sizes, scheduling, delivery methodology and community needs.

October 16, 2006 8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more example of how controlled the process was--
In the third post here the contributor said,
"The evening session had more seniors attending, including one in my group who was bewildered as to why any repairs/improvements needed to be made."
Did anyone hear this senior's question except for the people at their table? Was there any opportunity for that individual to ask it?

October 16, 2006 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, that woman wasn't interested in asking any questions, she explicitly said that her issue was any increase in taxes, and she did not know about the physical state of the high school and she did not care to know. She said that she knew that her attitude was unreasonable and did not care to change it. Yes, she said all of that and in that way....

October 16, 2006 3:02 PM  
Blogger Bill Matthews said...

I got the other 2 "Ts"

Trust and Tradition, in addition to Taxes, Timing and Turf make up the 5 “Ts” we will need to tackle in the renovation process.

And of course much, much, more …

October 16, 2006 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its a shame if the older lady's attitude was unreasonable.
You will get people like that, but in talking to 2 school administrators and 2 teachers (all have advanced degrees in education with 2 somewhat and 2 VERY familiar with the Mt. Leb H.S. They all voiced the same question as that woman ... "what's wrong with the current building?"
They weren't talking about physical conditions, such as leaky roofs etc., but strictly in its use as a school.
Remember -
Mt. L. high school been selected as a Blue Ribbon School 3 times in what - the last 5 years.
Students performance rate near the top year after year.
As bad as the current building may be, it seems to be fulfilling its primary purpose! Can it continue, I'd like to know.

October 16, 2006 6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's an an absolutely reasonable question - perhaps the "classic" style of our old high school is classic for a reason, it has worked for a long time and maybe will continue to work. However,this woman wanted to spend NO money on even the most simple of repairs. The physical structure of the building is in very poor shape. We as a community are not providing these students with a heated, leakfree building. Money will have to be spent on this building, there is no question. And to be fair, you really have to walk through the classroom part of the building and go into the student restrooms to see some of the worst sections. Not sure that an educator from another district or even most parents have seen the worst. Again, I wish that the public was given the opportunity to tour the building.

October 16, 2006 6:39 PM  
Blogger joe wertheim said...

Just a simple question. I know that the "blog author" some time ago changed his policy and now allows anonymous posts, but why is everyone with an opinion on this, and other subjects, unwilling to identify themselves?

October 16, 2006 8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since Google "bots" (is that the right word?) pick up my postings from ten years ago from another site, therefore when a propsective employer/inlaw, etc googles my name, I don't want a conversation that I had here to be memorialized indefinitely. I suppose that I could create a "name", but then I'd still be anonymous , right?

October 17, 2006 7:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To answer "a simple question"--
People choose to remain anonymous for at least one obvious reason... fear of reprisal.
The two teachers I mentioned that are very familar with the H.S., when asked to step forward declined. They firmly believe the agenda is to build new and will pay a price for suggesting otherwise.
As for "classic style" post. I'm in agreement. Show the financial analysis of rennovating vs. new over the next 30 years.
Just because we build new doesn't mean that we won't have any structural issues for the next 30 years. Roofs will leak and furnaces will breakdown. Furthermore, open classrooms and schools were promoted in the late 70s as visionary. From the teachers I know, they unanimously claimed them to be monumental failures, and one district I know of tore down a 5 year old building because it was a disaster and total failure.
By the way, I went to Tuesday meeting and my questions were effectively dismissed by district employees.

October 17, 2006 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just watched the ch. 19 school board meeting 10/16.
Dr. Wilson announced that MTLSD has been chosen by Standard & Poor's as one of 5 state districts deemed outperforming. Furthermore the district has received this award for the last 4 years. Disspite physical conditions, which may or may not be repairable at the high school, we seem to be providing our kids with one heck of an education.
So why don't we deal with the known problems first?

October 17, 2006 10:54 AM  
Anonymous BB said...

For attendees of Mt. Leb HS meeting Tuesday night-- read Bec Thurner's letter to the Almanac today about Bethel's High School. Think open classrooms are a future vision?!

October 18, 2006 2:33 PM  

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