The City's Pulse Newsletter
It's All About the Process

Sometimes it's easier to understand something if you have a similar item with which to compare and contrast.  Like apples to apples; like comparing Toyota to Honda.  Like the way Post Falls uses Urban Renewal by creating site specific districts that have clear plans with measurable goals that close down when completed, compared to our LCDC here in CdA that has huge districts, vague plans and the maximum 24 year time line allowed by law.  

But what I want to discuss today is the upcoming CdA School District levy. The district's Chief Financial Officer, Steve Briggs has sent two letters in response to my questions.  In both letters he clearly states there were no estimates or any written research about the cost to remodel Lakes Middle School rather than build a new one.   And in both letters he compares the Lakes project to Spokane's renovation of Rogers High School. 

The Rogers remodel in Spokane has become a central argument for our CdA district as they defend the levy to build a brand new Lakes.  They say the price of Rogers' remodel was "significantly in excess of new construction costs."  Since Steve Briggs uses this comparison in his letters and our Superintendent Harry Amend does as well, when he talks to community leaders, let's look more closely at these two projects.

My newsletter last week explained why comparing Rogers High School to Lakes Middle School is like apples to pears.  The student populations, services offered, total area per student and even cost per student, all make the two schools vastly different. This week, however, after a very interesting phone call, I can now offer you a comparison of the two projects that does work. It's a comparison of the actual decision making process behind both school's plans.  I think you'll find the contrast quite enlightening.

My phone call was from Greg Brown of the Capitol Improvement Department at Spokane's School District 81.  He is the point person for the Roger's project and was returning my call from last week.  I asked Greg about the process they follow to determine if a school should be remodeled or built new.  Here's their procedure:

1.  The State of Washington requires building condition evaluations on all the district's    schools.  It's a detailed process and there are specific forms that must be filled out. 

2.  Before they even ask for a levy, they hold community meetings and get the public's input.  In the case of Rogers High School, the citizens were very adamant about preserving its history and some of its nostalgic components.
3.  A detailed cost analysis is then completed and documented to determine whether the building should be remodeled or taken down.  In Rogers case, they remodeled the 1932 portion of the building, which comprises 1/3 of the total building, then built the rest new.

4.  Greg said it would absolutely be more expensive to build an all new Rogers building.

5.  He said renovations typically cost less than building new and the State of
Washington gives incentives to save and remodel as much of the buildings as possible.

6.  Greg also said that if school levy money is approved for one purpose but the use changes (as in our approved 2002 levy money to remodel Lakes that was used for other projects), Spokane is required to hold a new set of Public Hearings to inform the public and discuss the proposed change of use.  Doesn't that sound respectful and responsive to the community?

Now let's review the process used by our CdA School District 271. Steve Briggs' letters state the following: 

1.  "Because bids, RFPs, contracts and specifications for projects are usually not completed until after the election, no such documents exist for Lakes Middle School remodel planned in 2002."   So CdA did not create a written building condition evaluation or hold community meetings or make a documented cost analysis, like Spokane does, prior to asking for a levy.

2.  Steve Briggs goes on to explain that in 2006 the question of whether to build new or remodel was reconsidered.  "After careful study the Long Range Planning Committee recommended...that the best long term solution...would be to build a new Lakes."  He gives no details of their study.  No references to process, documents, experts or procedures. Nothing.  

3.  After the defeat of the levy in 2006, Steve's letters say, the Long Range Planning Committee looked at the issue again.  This time they were told that two prominent contractors verbally stated at a CBNI meeting (Concerned Businesses of North Idaho) that it would be cheaper to build a new school.

4.  That's the entire procedure, or lack thereof, for our school district's decision to come to the voters asking for a $31.1 million dollar levy, the majority of which will go to a $23.6 million dollar new Lakes Middle School.  

I have rarely voted against a school levy. Education is an important asset for any community.  Yet education does not depend on new buildings, it depends on great teachers.  And this upcoming levy has nothing to do with teachers salaries. It does, however, have everything to do with accountability.  I will vote against this levy.  I will vote against the decision making process that is irresponsible to the taxpayers and is insulting to the intelligence of the citizens.  We deserve a procedure that is reasonable, clear, documented and accountable. It's time to send a strong message and expect a process worthy of our trust.

PLEASE VOTE, May 20th in the School election at any public school. 

(The local county primary elections for county and state positions are one week later on May 27th, so please be alert, it is very confusing.


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