8, “Duluth-i-size it” with “A Very Generous Contract”
Art Johnston’s dry analysis of the Red Plan, published in last week’s
Reader, is a revelation. Using JCI’s (Johnson Control Inc.) own figures, Art
shows that rather than fixing $12.7 million worth of “flaws” at Central High
School, JCI’s Red Plan will spend $56 million to enlarge three other schools
so that they can accommodate Central’s students. Even more remarkable is his
discovery that only $500,000 of the $12.7 million in flaws are for serious
design issues. The other $12.2 million is for simple building maintenance. And
this particular public building, now slated for demolition, is
’s most valuable school. It’s estimated worth to the District is $30 million
dollars. It’s likely to be sold for ten million.
But the Red Plan will spend much more than $56 million on Central’s
replacements - Denfeld, Ordean and the
. Together they will account for $89 million of the Red Plan’s budget.
The District has explained that the Red Plan is necessary
has a wasteful 25% overcapacity. However, Art has discovered that the $293 Red
Plan only eliminates half this wastefulness. When it’s completed the District
will still have 12% overcapacity. That may explain JCI account executive, Jeff
Schiltz’s, comment to the News Tribune on
June 19, 2007
. “If we came up with a half-a-billion plan, the community wouldn’t support
it because of the tax impact.” Apparently JCI would need to double the Red
Plan’s budget to eliminate this extra space. As it is, with interest, the Red
Plan is now projected to cost $407 million.
Art was a little dismayed to find little documentary
evidence of the “10,000 hours” that JCI claims its experts spent analyzing
the District’s buildings. He was surprised to find that $3 million of a much
ballyhooed $5 million annual savings was nothing more than staff cuts rather
than savings from greater efficiency. Instead of $100 million in savings over
twenty years taxpayers can expect a disappointing savings of $30 million.
That’s one dollar saved for every thirteen dollars spent.
was also appalled that some of the Red Plan’s engineers and architects were
not licensed in
, and therefore unqualified to analyze our schools.
’s “critique” is mostly confined to Central High another professional with
roots made a thorough and alarming study of Central High’s principal
replacement - the new
Landscape architect Ken Worley, a former Ordean resident,
was the brains behind the biggest public works project in
’s history – the eastern extension of I-35. When
saw that the Federal Government was going to excavate and pave over downtown
as brutally as it plowed through western
he spearheaded CIHE--Citizens for
and Environment. CIHE slowed the Interstate down until Kent himself was invited
to head up a design team which created the Lakewalk and prevented
from being severed from the rest of the City.
Based on the undersized Ordean site,
saw that all the patches in the world would never solve its safety, traffic and
expansion needs. At 26 acres it was half the size recommended for a high school
by the State of
. Ordean High would burst at the seams with 1,500 driver’s licensed high
school kids. This enrollment would triple that of Ordean’s 600 junior high
students. To accommodate such numbers an Ordean High would require roughly 950
parking spots. The parking lot in Brent Jones’s (JCI’s “program
manager”) blueprints were meant to handle 500 cars but Worley calculated that
the space could only hold 250 cars – one fourth of what was needed. Jones
response was terse, “We’ll just Duluth-i-size it.”
Ordean is still Duluth-i-sized. Its current parking will
only fit 440 cars. To do this JCI paves over the only forested patch of
for a mile-long stretch. The District’s property and risk manager, Kerry
Leider lobbied for a site along
which would have required little or no eminent domain but JCI overruled him.
Perhaps JCI thought it would be cheaper to add onto the fifty year-old Ordean
rather than build a new school. Ironically, even though the Red Plan is the
biggest school building project in
history cheapness is one of its hallmarks. Superintendent Dixon recently
explained that all of the Red Plan’s schools will be “Chevies” and not “Cadillacs.”
Kent Worley anticipates years of problems from JCI’s
inflexible plans and poor siting. A basic tenet of planning warns that public
buildings draw cars like a magnet. They require a set back from collector
streets, something that Ordean lacks. Ordean
needs enough roadway to allow hundreds of vehicles to enter, exit, and park
simultaneously. JCI’s plan has a single entrance/exit and a truncated, U-turn,
bus lane which will pit vehicles against each other as drivers jockey for
parking, pick-ups and drop-offs. It will be a safety nightmare.
drew up a site plan which acquired vacant street right-of-way from an unbuilt
street above the railroad tracks and other unpopulated land which could provide
a second entry/exit, overflow parking, safety for pedestrians, tennis courts and
other athletic space. It would
require no home acquisition by the District. He suspects that his alternative
would be less expensive. Although
sent many letters to the District he’s gotten little response.
JCI’s resistance to outside advice has resulted in a
great many unpleasant surprises. The state turned down two of the building
proposals in the Red Plan. The State extended its deadline to approve the plan
by two weeks rather than expedite it as the District requested. JCI failed to
anticipate the state’s order to expand the Ordean site. It failed to alert
homeowners that eminent domain would engulf 41 properties. It failed to
anticipate that it would have to acquire federally protected eagle habitat. It
failed to address Ordean’s parking, traffic and safety needs. There is no
provision to protect the much smaller Ordean neighborhood from suffering from
the same chronic student parking woes that afflict the Denfeld neighborhood.
Just how JCI has operated in
has been a great mystery. Art Johnston found no evidence of community input.
Gary Glass was stymied over and over again last year as he tried to gather
information pertaining to JCI’s planning. A former School Board member hired
an attorney to demand information about JCI’s work using
’s version of the Freedom of Information Act. Gary Glass took advantage of
this to get a copy of the District’s JCI contract which few of the school
board members had ever read. Contrary to District policy, and possibly state
law, the School Board approved the contract sight unseen. Although it was a
public document it wasn’t in the School Board’s minutes. It contains a
provision giving JCI proprietary rights to all the information it collects about
the District and allows JCI to withhold this information from the public.
It also spells out the specific rates of compensation JCI
will receive for repairs and construction (2%); “basic services” (3%); and a
myriad of rates for professional services (2.5% to 9.5%). It’s not easy to
tell from the contract how much JCI will earn as project manager. Gary Glass
offered Kerry Leider confidentiality if he would tell
how much JCI would earn. I’ve always considered Kerry a straight shooter and
can’t imagine that he needed such an assurance but he didn’t turn it down.
says Leider told him that it was “a very generous contract” and estimated
that JCI would earn about 13% of the then $257 million price tag. That’s a
whopping $34 million. When
reported this figure publicly last June the District told the News Tribune that
JCI would only earn $4.5 million. The Trib’s story made Glass look foolish.
When Kent Worley looked at the contract he surmised that
JCI could easily squeeze 10 to 12 % out of it, maybe more, depending on how much
pressure it put on architects and engineers to eke out a profit by skimping on
their work. Maybe that explains the shoddy planning for Ordean High.
Two weeks from now
I’ll return to my idiosyncratic bi-weekly column Not Eudora. The Chronicles
are not complete but will only make sporadic appearances as the saga continues
to unfold. Readers looking for the complete series to date will find them at:
A petition for a more reasonable alternative to the Red Plan will be mailed to
people who call Brenda at: 390-7768.