Administration Fails to Notice Error on the Project Finish Date

The project end date is actually March 25, 2017 (not January 30).

While reviewing official project documents over the past few months, Maria Kopicki noted that the 30-month “Feasibility Study” window seemed to end at … 28 months. She wrote to the MSBA about it, and they confirmed: Yep, September 24, 2014 plus 30 months, is March 25, 2017. Not January 30, 2017, as in the Project documents.

The FSA currently incorrectly states that the termination date is January 30, 2017. The date should be March 25, 2017 … The MSBA is in the process of issuing an Amendment to the FSA which will reflect the March 25, 2017 date.

(See the attached MSBA letter acknowledging the correct date for the whole thing.)

Who is in charge of carefully reviewing documents?

This is both good news and bad news.  It’s good news, because we have a little more time to carefully consider options.

It’s bad news, because it speaks to a graver concern: How did such a fundamental error go un-noticed for all these months?  The Administration didn’t catch the error, although it has been working with these dates and timetables for many months itself.  The School Committee, charged with supervising the Administration, didn’t catch it.  The School Building Committee, which is ostensibly in charge of asking questions and making decisions about this project, didn’t catch it.  The project manager (“OPM”, paid ~$16,000 a month), and the architect (paid ~$32,000 a month) also didn’t catch this fundamental error.

Who is in charge of looking at these documents?  Who is actually looking at them carefully?  Apparently not the consultants we’re paying $48,000 a month ($576,000 a year), and not our full-time staff, either.

This is not some little detail buried on page 453 of a 500 page document.  This is missing two months out of a 30-month timeline, THE 30-month timeline.  It’s the project end date.

This is not the first significant error that has been uncovered by a Concerned Parent doing a little amateur sleuthing.

Last fall, after the District repeatedly stated that the School Committee had to vote in November, Maria Kopicki again carefully read the actual requirements, saw a discrepancy, double-checked with the MSBA–and attempted to tell the Administration of the error.  They were non-responsive, but she published an editorial setting the record straight on the timetable, and got the MSBA to call the Administration to correct them.   The correct timetable allowed time for a survey and additional public meetings.  And all that was needed was a basic level of careful reading and attention to detail.

These are not the only errors.  

These timing issues have not been the only errors.  There have been some real questions about cost estimates, too.

First the “cost per square foot”, which started at $390 — about $100 more per square foot costs than the median for other the MSBA elementary/middle school renovation projects ($300/sf).  After the discrepancy was pointed out, that dropped to $338 per square foot–that’s a significant difference.  We still have no explanation as to why the original numbers were so odd or why the current numbers are still 10% higher than all the other inflation-adjusted MSBA projects.  Unfortunately, these were the only cost estimates available prior to the School Committee’s vote on grade configuration and the School Building Committee’s vote on a Preferred Solution that was inextricably tied to it.

These sorts of details matter.  The recent middle / high school merger, for instance, was ultimately derailed by just these sorts of practical details, which went unnoticed for too long in the Administration’s planning process.  The high school and middle school are on different schedules, including different bell schedules.  And there is not enough room or time to accommodate lunch for hundreds more students–already high schoolers are eating lunch at 10 in the morning, and sprawling onto the hallway floors to do it.  It took concerted efforts to make the nature of those logistical obstacles clear.  But it was more than a year into their planning process — and considerable time and no doubt money spent on the proposal — before Administration noticed some fairly obvious and important details, like overcrowded lunches and bell schedules that don’t align.

Details matter.

Maybe the Administration has had too many balls in the air, but if they’re getting important details like the project end date wrong, you wonder what else they’re missing.

And that’s why we strongly feel that the Town should, in the interests of fiscal prudence and oversight, do a little double-checking of the costs and figures.  Article 38 does not ask much: The Town will be on the hook for at least $31 million just for the building, maybe $40 million or more once all the other costs of elementary school system reconfiguration are considered.  Double-checking to see how much the Schools propose for us to pay  — and double-checking their renovation estimates — only seems reasonable.


One comment

  1. Pingback: error in draft of Prop 2-1/2 debt exclusion question | Save Amherst's Small Schools

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