In The News › Learning Curve: Quick Start school construction provides guidance on rebuilding master plan in N.O.

Nov 3, 2008

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Schools

Learning Curve: Quick Start school construction provides guidance on rebuilding master plan in N.O.

Learning Curve: Quick Start school construction provides guidance on rebuilding master plan in N.O.

Stephen Maloney

New Orleans CityBusiness, November 3, 2008

As planners create a blueprint for the future of public education in New Orleans, questions have arisen about where to find $1.2 billion to build it. But education leaders say ongoing construction projects are helping streamline the process and point to an affordable school building strategy.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek introduced the Quick Start school construction initiative in late 2007 as a way to jumpstart the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish Schools. While the plan to rebuild, restore or replace in the neighborhood of 80 public school buildings in the city has faced criticism for its lack of specifics, Pastorek said the five schools in the Quick Start program were designed to establish an early template for the $1.2 billion master plan.

Ground has already been broken at four of the five Quick Start schools: L.B. Landry High School, Lake Area Middle School and Langston Hughes and Andrew Wilson elementary schools. A funding dispute with the Federal Emergency Management Agency has delayed work at the fifth school, Fannie C. Williams Elementary.

Pastorek said lessons learned at those construction sites will help guide future school projects and address concerns about the overall plan.

“One of the most important things we have learned with the Quick Start schools is what the true cost of the schools is going to be,” Pastorek said. “On the first building or two, when we did the cost estimates, they came in much higher than we had anticipated. So we went in to make some adjustments to the plan so we could bring the costs down. “

Every aspect of the Quick Start schools, from the drawing of initial plans to securing final funding, was fast tracked in an effort to provide badly needed classroom space, Pastorek said.

While detailed plans for those five schools have already been completed, Bureau of Governmental Research President Janet Howard said the master plan shows an alarming lack of specific cost estimates for future projects.

“We have looked at the 2,000-page plan, and in that 2,000-page document you cannot find some very basic information,” Howard said. “The plan will give you an estimate for what it costs to repair a building and then it gives you the hypothetical expense of rebuilding the existing facilities in a similar manner to the original, but that’s not what they’re doing. They’re trying to rebuild to a different standard, a 21st century schools standard. You cannot find school-by-school information on that. “

Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas said an accurate per-school cost estimate for the entirety of the master plan, which is divided into six phases and is expected to take about 15 years to complete, is impossible due to the plan’s enormity.

The $700 million initial phase of the plan is expected to begin this year and end in 2012. It is based on a categorical cost assessment of the 46 first phase schools that, much like the Quick Start program, will serve as a template for all subsequent phases, Vallas said.

“We have laid out a template of what we want to see on all the schools,” he said. “We have specifications for each elementary school and high school, but we can’t put an actual cost per school until we bid the individual contracts. We can estimate what the cost will be, but we have to bid out every single contract and each contract has got to go before the Orleans Parish School Board individually. “

Any cost estimates created before that bid process is opened will be premature speculation, Vallas said, but he pointed to the advantage of having five Quick Start school projects under way as a way to establish cost cutting techniques for future projects.

That money-saving process in the Quick Start project was initially painful, Pastorek said, but it will be applied to every future school construction project, helping to not only streamline the process but also align the initial estimates with real time cost comparisons.

“What’s happened is it’s made us smarter in being able to design our buildings and get better prices on the work,” he said. “The good news is that our cost numbers are falling. The price per square foot is falling, so that’s telling us what the market is looking like in fact versus speculation. “

As the master plan’s initial phase comes closer to becoming a reality, Pastorek said he expects to address all concerns about the plan’s efficacy through the lessons learned in the Quick Start program.

“I think we’re going to probably make some adjustments to the plan,” he said. “I don’t think they are going to undercut the basic core philosophy of it, but I do think we have learned some additional things through this process. “

Nov 3, 2008

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Schools

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