Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Shirley, this cannot be; $21 million may not be enough for school “renovation?” Pass the smelling salts, quick!

As our protégé Ben, Dover, Local Taxpayer said in the prior post, we will be subjected to mission creep, ramping, and water dripping on our heads.

The article we are about to analyze accelerates mission creep to mission leap, replaces the ramp with a 10 foot step, and turns water drops into 1 gallon water balloons.  All at the hands of those who have no legitimate claim of objectivity on the subject.  And with no challenge or validation by the press.

As we read the article, we laughed and laughed and laughed, because the quotes in the article are almost a self-parody of classic, shop-worn, bumper sticker talking points used so successfully by School Department demagogues ever since time began.  We hear Maine Street storm drains were in danger of overflowing from the flash flood of tears shed by the schoolies of the BCU as they read it. 

On the other hand, who knows?  The sudden ‘storm surge’ could have been special effects courtesy of Bowdoin Svengalis and real estate sales agents priming the pumps, so to speak.

So let’s begin.  In what follows, the italicized text is the passage from the article.  The indented, non-italicized text is our response to those words.

BRUNSWICK — A plan to upgrade two schools could cost the town more than the $21 million originally estimated, but the total won't be known until the School Board's March 6 facilities meeting.

Well, surprise, surprise! Who’d have guessed? On the other hand, have you ever seen a government project that came in under or at initial estimates? Do you remember the Public Safety Facility plan of 10 years ago that started in the range of $6 million, but by the time it appeared on the ballot was at $13 million?

                        Brunswick Junior High School Principal Walter Wallace knocks on one of the sixth grade classrooms' thin walls. "This is not very good for sound," he said."

Brunswick Junior High School Principal Walter Wallace knocks on one of the sixth grade classrooms' thin walls. "This is not very good for sound," he said."

“Look how I can punch my finger right through it. Do you really want your children in such cheesy conditions?”  We hope you don’t mind us pointing out that these walls were a design feature presented by the architects of the last construction cycle, and approved by the School Board and associated ‘new construction committees’ then.  Could you please tell us why this time, things will be different?

                         Coffin Elementary School Principal Steve Ciembroniewicz says separating young children in mobile classroom units apart from the main part of school can create safety concerns and time constraints.

Coffin Elementary School Principal Steve Ciembroniewicz says separating young children in mobile classroom units apart from the main part of school can create safety and scheduling issues.

What’s next? Expecting kids to walk to school? Who ever heard of such a thing?  And by the way, which architects came up with this solution, and which School Board and School Administration approved the approach?

"It wouldn't surprise me if the costs were more than the $21 million," Lyndon Keck, the principal architect working on plans for Brunswick Junior High School and Coffin Elementary School, said Tuesday.

So it wouldn’t surprise him?  Especially since it’s he and his firm that are preparing the estimates, and who are practiced professionals at taking advantage of taxpayer funded ‘crises?’ This is how these opportunists make their living; there is no counterbalance to what they come up with.

They exert mind control over the government school establishment in Maine, because no one dare challenge ‘qualified professionals.’  Especially if they’re pre-disposed to spending OPM on replacement of the assets they’ve let fall into ruin.  

And wouldn’t you just know it, the same firm is proposing a $17 million ‘renovation’ to Freeport’s High School.

Keck's firm, PDT Architects, is the second firm hired by the town for the project. The $21 million estimate was from another firm that performed the first phase of the upgrade plan.

This is the school architects’ version of “Bush did it,” or “it was like this when we got here,” or “we inherited this situation from the previous administration.”  In other words, if you’d have begun this effort with us, you’d have had the elevated but unknown number sooner.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said the March 6 meeting, at 6 p.m. at Coffin, will be an opportunity for School Board members and the public to see why it may be time to upgrade the two schools – or possibly build a new one if that costs less.

There you have it: the official planting of the seed that building new costs less than ‘renovating.’ The BCU will sprinkle the seed with copious amounts of water and verbal fertilizer to make sure it sprouts and grows.

Perzanoski said a projected increase in student population was one of the original reasons for pursuing the plan in the first place, prompted in part by the closing of Jordan Acres Elementary School in 2011.

Excuse us? What the hell does the closing of a school (due to derelict maintenance) have to do with student population increase? And now you’re telling us that your failure to maintain JA as a functional facility, and we suppose, the voluntary closure of Longfellow, are the driving forces behind the need to spend so much?

And could you please tell us the specifics of the “projected increase’ in student population? Was Planning Decisions, Inc involved in this projected increase?

"But the main reason was that the buildings were falling apart and needed to be upgraded," Perzanoski said. "Especially concerning was having classes in the (portable classrooms)."

Excuse me, but isn’t it the role of School Administration and the School Board to see that buildings aren’t ‘falling apart?’ If not, what are we paying you for? Or are raises for teachers, as we have proven over and over, the only priority you have?

Coffin has had five portable units for several years, and Perzanoski isn't the only one who thinks they should  go.

Funny, but with the huge decline in enrollment in recent years, ALL portable units should have been able to be mothballed. Unless, that is, you closed/ignored issues at other schools to keep classroom pressures at the breaking point, regardless of total enrollment.

Standing on the road between Coffin's entrance and three of the mobile classrooms, Principal Steve Ciembroniewicz explained on Monday the time constraints and safety concerns the current setup creates.

Thank you, Mr. Ciembroniewicz. You have a bright future here in Brunswick School Administration. And if you tire of that, you can always sign on with PDT Architects as an ‘education professional’ in a consulting role.

"Imagine the transition times, and you're bundling up ...," Ciembroniewicz said while motioning to the crosswalk, where a class of small children and their teacher just crossed. "This is a big deal. This has to change. We don't want little kiddos crossing all the time."

Kiddos?  Next thing you know, we’ll only have outdoor parking for teachers and staff, and they’ll have to endure exposure to raw weather to come to work.  We’re going to need sheltered ‘sally ports’ for school busses to drop off and pick up our students.

Beyond increasing the safety for Coffin students and getting rid of the mobile units, Keck said Coffin and the junior high, both more than 50 years old, have structural issues that could increase the cost of the upgrade plan.

School architects are very fond of talking about how schools are built for a 40 year useful life. How old is your house? Imagine how much of Brunswick would be left if everything over 40 years old had to be torn down? How much of the Beloved Shrine of Bowdoin would survive such commitment to ‘newness?’

Are we to conclude that the ‘new’ Brunswick High School is now approaching the middle age of its useful life? It opened in 1995, so it’s nearing 20 years of use.  We should probably start planning for its replacement now, right?

"These buildings are not terrific," Keck told the School Board at the last facilities meeting. "They were not terrific when they were built."

Just what is it, Mr. PDT, that makes a school building only good for 40 years?  And what makes it good for longer? Were the old schools designed by Professional Architects that were the PDTs of their day?  And approved by School Boards and Administrations of their time?  Remind us again, if you will, why your offerings this time around will not be similarly flawed?

The cost upgrades will be presented at the March 6 meeting in four cost options, depending on the scope of work.

We need to give BCU enough time to prepare their preemptive arguments for the upcoming budget deliberations and hearings.  The options presented should provide the perfect context for BCU to argue that it’s time to ‘bite the bullet’ and do what’s right for ‘our children.’

While the minimum amount of work would consist of basic repairs, like removing asbestos from beneath the floors and replacing broken toilet fixtures, another cost option would focus on adding more capacity to the schools, Keck said.

Asbestos beneath the floors? How many children and staff must die?

Broken toilet fixtures? Who the hell has been responsible for, and who have we been paying, to take care of our schools? We want to know, by name, those who have lost their jobs for letting such situations exist, and who the administration officials are that tolerate such incompetence?

If the people we pay to take care of the kids are doing as good a job as those we pay to take care of the schools, where are we?

Adding more capacity?  What the hell does that have to do with renovation? And why have we shut down two actively used schools?

Keck said that while basic repairs would be less costly, they wouldn't do much to increase the longevity of two buildings.

That BS we started this off with about ‘renovation’ was the first step in sticking it to you, but good.  Time to fork it over, you inattentive dolts.

"If you do a full renovation you can say ... it's more expensive," Keck said, "but ... it's a good investment and it will go on for another 40 years."

Look, I’ve got a really good deal for you. And my kids, who are in architectural school right now, will be here in 30-40 years to sell you the next major upgrade. We call it job security in our business.

Some of the work would entail updating the two buildings to modern code standards and adding insulation.

Of course; who can argue with that? And you know what, once we start doing that, we always discover that the building was in far worse condition than we knew or suspected.

Also, the walls between the classrooms at Coffin have quarter-inch plywood, which not only allows sound to travel into other classrooms, but also makes the building more combustible, Keck previously told the School Board.

You know how dangerous that damn wood is; it’s combustible. We’re lucky none of our houses or other buildings use wood products, otherwise, we’d all be vulnerable.  This design could not have been created by architects like us; we’d never do such a thing.

At the junior high on Monday, Principal Walter Wallace demonstrated some of his building's deficiencies.

And neither the Superintendent or the School Board coached me to come up with any of this as part of the campaign.

"These are partition walls. They fold, they open up," Wallace said, pointing at the thin exterior walls of a few classrooms. "This is not very good for sound."

Who’d have guessed that partition walls designed to open up and move would open up and move? Boy, did we get screwed!

Stopping by a classroom in another part of the sixth-grade hall, Wallace pointed down at the floor.

"You can see that it slopes down," Wallace said, explaining that several classroom floors have sunk from the hallway's floor level. "Now you can take a marble and it will roll all the way across the floor."

Once again, we can be grateful for the careful design and attentive maintenance of our facilities by our crack professionals over the years.

In case renovations prove too costly, Keck said he will also have cost estimates for new buildings.

The Grand Pronouncement: in case fixing what we have is too expensive, we can always save money by replacing everything. And it won’t make a difference in what my firm makes on this.

Although the School Board will have to decide which path to take, the final decision will be left to voters when a bond issue goes to referendum, probably in November.

Just about the time the voters go into hibernation, we’ll put a monster referendum on the ballot in an election year that guarantees minimum voter turnout.

Last fall, Town Manager Gary Brown estimated a 6-7 percent increase in property taxes if the town borrows $21 million for the school upgrade plan. That figure could increase depending on the cost options that emerge March 6.

Like all such estimates, they are intended to numb the senses.

"If there’s not support for (a bond), the buildings stay exactly the way they are and we try to keep them running," Perzanoski said.  He said he will likely examine the costs of taking that route at one of the next school budget meetings.

“We can always let the children and the teachers suffer, and go without operating toilets, if it will save a few bucks.”

Shirley?  Shirley, are you there? 

We need to talk to you desperately, now!  Because we just checked the Cable 3 TV site, and no matter what our officials said, we don’t see any public meeting on the web site.

Surely what we read above can’t be true!

Or can it?

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