Friday, February 19, 2010

Local Structural Engineer to School Board on High School Project: “Stop this Huge Mistake”

Proponents of the current plan to reconstruct the high school have frequently characterized it as the only reasonable option. They argue that the current plan is only slightly more expensive than merely patching up the facility and is therefore worth the small additional expense. It’s the smart choice, they argue.

But that argument relies upon two premises which are suspect. First, it relies upon the premise that the alternative – a more-modest, renovation-only option – would be just a temporary “Band-Aid,” delivering little value. Second, it relies upon the premise that this Band-Aid would cost nearly as much as the currently proposed reconstruction.

Both premises wither under scrutiny provided by local structural engineer Dirk A. Taylor, P.E., who challenged them in a four-page letter he sent the school board yesterday.

Mr. Taylor, who was a member of the Community Advisory Committee and has served the school district on more than a dozen other projects at the high school, has repeatedly asked the school board to reconsider its plans to embark on an ambitious reconstruction of the high school. Now, in his letter to the school board, Mr. Taylor demonstrates that the claims about the alternative’s low benefits and high costs are mistaken. He begins:
It has come to my attention that a member or members of the Mt. Lebanon School Board have publicly stated that there is no reason to reconsider renovation of the existing High School as a cost saving alternative over the currently proposed reconstruction project because a renovation would still cost at least $103 million, without even achieving the level of quality of the proposed school. I am not sure how that statement could possibly be substantiated.
In his letter, he dispels the notion that a pure renovation is merely a temporary Band-Aid:
[The renovation] would include a total updating of every architectural, mechanical, electrical, and telecommunications system throughout the facility to ‘21st Century learning standards’ per the project’s stated goal.
Further, Mr. Taylor demonstrates in step-by-step calculations how P.J. Dick’s construction-cost estimates for the current reconstruction plan, when applied to a comparable pure renovation, result in an estimated cost savings of nearly $30 million:
Thus, a pure renovation of only 480,000 square feet of the existing High School would reduce the total project cost by $28.8 million, applying unbiased mathematics to the DD Cost Estimate Numbers presented by P.J. Dick.
Having removed the two pillars upon which rests the argument that reconstruction is more sensible than renovation, Mr. Taylor closes his letter by begging the school board to reconsider its plan:
In this era of grossly irresponsible spending at virtually all levels of government, perhaps I was naive to think it could be any different at the local school board level. Please show me I was not incorrect to think that you were capable of acting responsibly. Stop this huge mistake before we reach the point of no return.
I hope the school-board directors who read Mr. Taylor’s letter are willing at least to consider the possibility that he may be right.

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Blogger Mike Madison said...

Tom, let me pitch you what I anticipate to be leading responses to Mr. Taylor:

1. The kinds of adjustments that Mr. Taylor proposes were considered and rejected at earlier stages in the project, by the Board, by CF and PJ Dick, and by the community. There is no reason to revisit those decisions now. In other words: The community has reviewed the merits and rejected the sort of renovation that Mr. Taylor describes.

2. Second, and related but distinct, proceeding with the full scale project, and not Mr. Taylor's version, is the proper way to give respect and credit to the efforts of the Board and the community members who participated in the design and review processes. In other words: Even if the community came to an incorrect conclusion on the merits, fairness to our hard-working neighbors on the School Board and related advisory committees means that the full-scale project should go forward.

Personally, I do not find either argument persuasive. I offer them in this comment so that you or other posters and commenters might address them.


February 19, 2010 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your anticipated responses are pretty good.
If they are, I'll ask my next question now.
Would one of these decision makers please explain the following:
The renovation of building B is identified as bringing B up to "like-new" condition.
When they talk about B in the $103million renovation only project, its acceptable to describe the work as a band-aid.
The differences please?
Dean Spahr

February 19, 2010 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If our kids find out that the School Board passes the test based on hard work, I feel sorry for the teachers. Even if the students get the wrong answer, should they get an A for effort?
Elaine Gillen

February 19, 2010 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should have added that I know you don't buy into those arguments. I can hear those responses as well.
Elaine Gillen

February 19, 2010 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Bill Lewis said...

Mike...let me take a stab at what you have in mind :

A) CAC design proposals were considered and almost rejected out of hand by the Master Design Team (MDT)whose members consisted of 2 SB members (who are absolutely opposed to outside *interference*), CFB, CM, a former SB member, Dr. Steinhauer, perhaps the Project Mgr...there may have been i or 2 others. There was no "community" presence other than a former SB member who was known to advocate for an entirely new building complex. It was a *stacked deck* from the get-go. There has been no true community consideration or rejection of the CAC proposal.

B) note in the above, I acknowledge only *design*, not cost or financial considerations. The CAC requested a cost estimate of their proposals by the project CM, a request denied by the SB majority. Therefore, the estimated cost of the CAC proposal by the same retained entity performing the estimating for the CFB designs is not known; however, when the SB and Administration respond to public referrals to the CAC proposal, the responses always include reference to and direct association of the CAC proposal to the very early, 2008/9, $103 million total renovation concept designated as Alternate 1 by Celli. That $103 million concept had been rejected by the SB at an early unveiling and review...and later by the CAC after it was formed as well. The two renovation concepts..the CFB and the CAC.. are two entirely different animals. Accordingly, there has been no public consideration of Mr. Taylor's costs or cost comparisons with the last known cost estimated version of the District plan.

C) at the time project cost estimates of the several Alternates by the CM emerged in Jan. 2009, the $103 M "Repair Building" concept went up against all the others, including the eventual *winning* SB selection which had been Alternate 2 and titled "Renovation/Addition", costed at $138.8 M. There was also Alternate 2A, known as "New Bldg./Renovate P. Arts ", costed then at $156.3 million. I am of the opinion that the true Alternate we are dealing with today has evolved into what had really been Alternate 2A only 13 months ago...not the Alternate 2 the SB subsequently selected. Study and compare the drawings and the new vs. renovate %'s in sq. ft. and $. The question then becomes : if the design team had devoted the talent & energies to reduce the initial project costs from $139-$156 M to the current not-to-exceed $113.4 M, what might this team have been able to accomplish with the CAC proposal ?

2. three old descriptive sayings come to mind in addressing this idiotic but possible portrayal of the absolute and unquestioning advocates of the current scheme :
"Don't confuse us with the facts, our minds are made up", and "Lets do the wrong thing precisely right", and "We have more dollars than sense". I'm reaching the limit of allowable words for a blog comment...and those characterized immediately above will undoubtedly be thankful.

February 19, 2010 6:56 PM  

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