Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Lebo HS Renovation Blog

The Mt. Lebanon School District has set up a blog specifically to gather comments regarding the renovation process. The site is located at http://blog.mtlsd.org/highschoolrenovation/. I've added it to the list of links in the right-hand column.

The URL for the blog suggests to me that more blogs are in the School District's future.


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Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

I attended the renovation meeting the other night. More than one person, myself included, spoke during the open comments about the importance of (and difficulty of raising) community awareness of this issue.

I think a blog is a great approach, but taking a look at the aquatic center blog makes me realize we (meaning us - the Blog Lebo readership, and any other civic-minded, tech-literate, interested parties) ought to help spread the word and get more people reading and discussing these matters.

January 10, 2007 10:02 AM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

In the spirit of my last comment, I took a look to see what could be done about establishing an RSS feed for the school renovation blog. I found a free service, FeedYes, that feedifies web content by looking for new linkswithin a given subsection of an HTML page.

The tech-literate will realize that that is an ill-fitting but workable solution at best (what we in the biz call a kludge). I want to stress that this is NOT an official, MtLSD endorsed feed.

The feed URL is:


I also created a comments feed here (which is even more hack-tastic, since you get a full feed resync each time there's a new comment)


And, just for kicks, a feedified MtLPD police blotter (because, well, that's just darned useful - but also NOT official)


I've wrapped the FeedYes feeds through FeedBurner for more friendly URLs.

January 12, 2007 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I don't get it... the DeJong participation on the high school renovation, that is! I'll admit that I only attended the evening sessions, but from those and the literature distributed, I can find nothing of any substance.
Four scenerios were presented for renovation with a wide range of "guesstimated" cost, a meaningless poll— heavily weighted by staff and administration and some meaningless wishes of things people would like to see that have little to do with educating our kids.
At the first evening session DeJong made a big deal about how impossible it was to predict the future - even by experts (his example- the IBM chairman's prediction about computers from 1949[?]) yet this whole exercise has been presented as envisioning education in Mt. Lebanon for the next 40 years.
You can't have it both ways - Mr. DeJong either has a very good crystal ball which he didn't share or is just a front man for a project whose main mission is to keep up with the Jones' (USC, Bethel etc.) For $70,000, the board can now say to the community- we gave you an opportunity to speak up.
You don't need to build a $120,000,000 building to bring people to Mt. Lebanon-- keeping our kids and teachers at the top in performance, SATS, graduation rates etc. is what counts. Do it in a tent and people will still move here!
For one - I would have liked to see ACCURATE numbers on what needs to be fixed immediately. Then from that number, see what we need and what priorities we would like to have and then decide what we can afford.

January 15, 2007 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the last anonymouse comment. We paid this DeJoog guy with the annoying midwest accent $74,000 to tell us that we have 3 options on the HS and we should hire an architect!!! GIVE ME A MINUTE!! What a profound conclusion!!

Speaking of Taj Mahals, has anybody seen the new $77,000 Martha's Playground at the park? Concrete stairwell leading to a pathetic modern spaceage thinking playground that will probably hold up two seasons and maybe a half a dozen kids at at time. If you are down at the ice center have a look at the new playarea..

January 15, 2007 11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

$77,000 was just the playground equipment. You are looking at an additional $400,000+ of landscaping.

January 16, 2007 9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Throw money at it-- this has been the school board's answer to everything. From Sablegate, to teacher contracts, to hiring DeJong and on and on. Don't do any indepth analysis, don't present any evidence to justify conclusions and last but by far not least, don't check the numbers. If it has a powerpoint presentation it must be good.
The DeJong presentation is a perfect example... look at his suppositions and conclusions. The numbers are meaningless and contradictory!
Mr. DeJong stated that a district 2001 or 02 study on the HVAC concluded that just to fix the existing powerplant would cost $30 million. Yet, he says plan A to renovate the current building would be $20 to $50 million. Where'd he come up with the plan A number??? Anybody ask what would be included in A,B,C, D?
He asked attendees to vote on the four plans, yet the only information on each was a vague floor plan. Of course the vote would be skewed to the middle, what else would be expected?
Come on, are we that stupid?

January 16, 2007 9:37 AM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

To the anonymi:

Go to the Renovation blog. The full 600+ page DeJong report is there. The list of identified issues starts on page 21 of Section A. The "hard numbers" of square footage and intended/current purpose are all in Section C.

I went to the meeting thinking two things: 1) a lot of the project had already been decided upon and I was just being told about the decision, and 2) Mr. DeJong and his "presentation" were going to be a bunch of feel-good, "we're doing the right thing" kind of stuff.

I came away feeling very differently. Much of the project hasn't yet been decided - we're still at the stage of evaluating the four "big picture" options, and we need the architects now to give us some clarity and reality to those options.

The dollar figures aren't real yet because we haven't had the people who would actually be doing the work of constructing the building tell us how much they want, and why. They're ballpark figures, and that's all they're intended to be at this stage.

Mr. DeJong's responsibility has been and continues to be to gather input from the community that can be translated into a real set of guidelines for the architects to follow. He's also there to keep us from making dumb, emotionally motivated decisions that don't consider the ramifications.

If we had someone in the community or on the board who was a renowned expert on the subject of educational facility design, I would say yes, we don't need this step. But we don't. And going to any architect we can find and saying "build us a high school" might fix the structural or aesthetic considerations but would do little if anything about use of space, traffic flow, extra-curricular use of the site, etc, etc, etc.

I came away realizing there is a lot more going in to the creation (i.e., not just construction) of a high school, and that this guy really does have some expertise on the subject. If you don't believe me, Google "William DeJong" and read the first couple articles that come up.

(the school design ones, not the college drinking ones - wrong DeJong :)

In any case, my understanding is that once the RFP responses come back for the four options, the "official" costs will be considered and a particular architect/contractor and construction plan will be chosen. That should be done with the full support of the community, period. If that's /not/ what happens, then we start raising holy hell with the spendthrift school board.

January 16, 2007 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the DeJong exercise --
"People can easily be persuaded to accept most inferior ideas or useless products."
H. L. Mencken
"In the first place God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made School Boards."
Mark Twain

January 16, 2007 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Matt Wilson--
Please go to to American School & University magazine's website (www.asumag.com) and search for an article titled: "A Final Determination".
It shows a sound idea for the first step in determining whether to renovate or build new and doesn't require us to be experts on facility design.
It provides a simple analysis and side-by-side comparison of renovation vs. new for the next 10-20 years. It evaluates components, cost per sq. ft., life expect, replacement cost, last renewal, next renewal and total cost for long term.
Costs could be determined and substantiated for our region through RS Means and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA).
I did it quickly and have no experience as an architect. Seems to me it would've been a logical first step by the administration before hiring DeJong at $70,000. Having said that, I have as yet to stand for or against any proposal, but I would like to see this analysis done.
One more question... why in the world has the building been allowed to deteriorate to the point where we are using packing tape to seal windows. Where is the matenance money going?????

January 16, 2007 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. DeJong suggest the board, admin, community visit some schools to see what other facilities are doing. First on his list... Merion, OH, which he states is the #5 district in Ohio.
WHY WOULD WE WANT TO LOOK AT #5, wouldn't it be wiser to aspire to be the #1 district?
Also, I'm inclined to ask... what was the Merion district's position before construction?

January 16, 2007 3:16 PM  
Anonymous DAS said...

Matt Wilson-- this sounds like the DeJong Sessions. See the the entire article at www.asumag.com!

Planning Without Politics (from American School & University magazine)
Nov 1, 2004 12:00 PM
By Monte Hunter
It's a common way to plan new facilities: principals, teachers, maintenance staff, parent groups and others are asked to compile lists of needed improvements. A consultant is hired to assess facilities. Then a consultant estimates the costs. A task force of citizens, parents, students and community leaders is assembled to review, modify, prioritize and endorse the list. The school board tweaks the list a little more; sometimes it sends the list back to the task force for changes. Sometimes the citizens are polled to gauge the level of support. Finally, the board approves the plan and presents it to the public.
Why does this method OFTEN FAIL? It's laced with politics and subjective judgment. Principals and teachers have differing ideas of adequacy — they ask for what they want, which is often more than they need. Maintenance staff will lobby for replacing as many systems as they can to minimize future repair work. Coaches and fine-arts instructors try to get as much as they can. The task force prioritizes by subjective ranking. The board often will add a few pet projects. The citizen poll is based on subjective judgment. The public will be asked to support a bond based on the opinions of the task force.
The intentions of those involved are sincere, but the process has few objective controls. The district staff typically knows most of what is needed, but it takes only a few frivolous improvements or a perception of unfairness to sink an improvement program and damage the district's credibility.
The way to avoid these pitfalls is to use empirical benchmarks. Empirical benchmarks take the politics out of facility planning. Be warned, though: many don't like using a benchmark system because it is difficult to MANIPULATE.

January 16, 2007 5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To all visitors to these comments:
I errored-- the #5 high school in Ohio according to DeJong was presented as Mason, not Merion as I posted.
I apologize to Mr. DeJong and readers.

January 18, 2007 10:55 AM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

To the anonymous poster Jan 16 @ 11:45 - thank you for the link.

I agree, hard numbers such as the TCO calculations suggested in the article are what I am ready to see next. Perhaps we could have done them as a first step. I still think bringing in Mr. DeJong at least serves to bring experience to the issue. It gets the board and the community exposed to the design constraints and current thinking going on in school construction/renovation. (Granted, I'm not entirely sure what we paid him...)

das - I agree, design by committee produces lousy results. But I don't think that's where we're at, yet.

I'm a software developer by day, and a large part of what I do when planning a software project is to try to tease out as much measurable data as possible from the customers. This helps to determine reliable statistics: for comparing the relative desirability of one feature vs. another, etc. The goal is to prioritize essential customer needs compared to nice-to-have qualities, because we can't tell which is which at first.

My point is, going through the DeJong presentation reminds me of just that - good thinking, focused on teasing out the true boundaries, constraints, and proportions of the system. Whether we got what we paid for or not, it still smacks to me of professional work.

I hope you both attend the next community session, take the floor, and put your concerns before the board and Mr. DeJong.

January 22, 2007 9:07 PM  
Anonymous DAS said...

In 1985, the "experts" in my field dismissed computers and desktop publishing as a toy, that it would never replace typesetters and color separators. Digital photography later was met with the same skepticism, "digital will never replace film?"
Mr. DeJong in his first evening session presented qoutes from the experts echoing those same flawed visions.
Yet, later in his sessions, he states the whole purpose of this exercise is to envision education in Mt. Lebanon for the next 40 years.
Predicting the future, even 10 years out is almost impossible. Ten years ago, I'd have looked at someone that told me I could log on to the internet from any room in my house via WIFI as crazy. Changes in technology and society occur so rapidily that it's almost impossible to keep pace. The ad agency that does the Apple commercials, did away with individual offices a number of years ago. Providing employees only with lockers and meeting spaces when in-face meetings were required.
Some teachers have told me there are rumblings in education projections of the same scenerio. With the rise in home schooling, we may see teachers interact virtually with their students. The kids would come together only for group meetings, sporting events etc. Good - bad, even possible -- I can't even begin to comprehend!
But I'm left to wonder, do we invest in a massive structure that may be antiquated "overnight", or renovate.
The current building is in dire need of repairs and renovation, is it wise to save it - geez I don't know!
The only numbers valid in this discussion are the estimates to fix what exist. Everything else is a gamble.

January 23, 2007 9:38 AM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...


Adjusting for inability to predict the future is a very good point. I had some similar thoughts when it came to discussing the infrastructural upgrades - are they planning on wiring the entire building for ethernet/fiber or planning network topology for a wireless network? The technology deprecation cycle is going to be much more rapid relative to that of the physical facilities - that much is certain.

I don't know though that the physical deprecation cycle is as much of a concern. We can certainly renovate now and punt a lot of decisions to School Board 2017. We may see trends in educational facility planning emerge that would better guide our decision making at that time. But a patch is a patch, and hedging our bet might end up just costing us for renovation now and increased costs in a full reconstruction later. I plan to still be paying Mt Lebanon taxes in 2017 - do you?

We shouldn't consider a minimal fix to only necessary infrastructure unless the cost/benefit really doesn't justify more than that. So I'm looking forward to the price tags (and level of detail) on the four high-level options to really make up my mind.

January 23, 2007 1:13 PM  
Anonymous DAS said...

I think we see eye to eye.
"Punting to 2017" to see where we go isn't a realistic vision and does disservice to students in the interim.
The technology discussion left me wondering too.
No I don't want to patch... there are very good aurguments for even just improving the aestetics of the building that have nothing to do with education.
I'm really in a qaundary over this whole issue since I too hope to be paying taxes into 2017 and would hate to see us boxed in to antiquated ideas or facilities.

January 23, 2007 1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One trend that seems to be popping up recently in the media is whether all kids should be plannning for expensive college and beyond education.
One author has suggested we may be shortsighted in shackling our kids with college debt and careers in which supply far exceeds demand. They can't all be lawyers, doctors etc. and in a few short years "blue collar trades" will be in high demand with very lucrative pay scales.
Yet our education system seems to be focused on college prep, STAS etc.
Is this vision valid and how does it fit in with our h.s. renovation?

January 23, 2007 2:12 PM  

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