An Interview with Bob Syzmoniak, Fruitport Schools
Builders Exchange of Michigan: How is a student’s ability to learn directly impacted by his or her surrounding environment?
Bob Szymoniak: There are three things that I think are the most impactful. First, students need to know their building is safe and secure. Then it is important to have learning spaces flooded with natural light. Finally, I think learning spaces need to be flexible to accommodate various instructional techniques and learning styles found in today’s educational environment.
BX: Why are up-to-date structures and technology important to both teaching staff and students?
BS: Modern facilities have safety and security embedded into the design, which is very important these days. Plus, natural lighting and flexible learning spaces with embedded technology access are essential to both teaching and learning in today’s world. Finally, morale for both staff and students is profoundly impacted by new facilities.
BX: How does the district help educate the public about the importance of having up-to-date facilities and technology?
BS: That process begins with the development of a facilities committee made up of a variety of community stakeholders. Once they understand the state of the current facilities and technology availability, they then go out to their respective audience in the community and communicate the compelling arguments that illustrate the need for updates to both the facility and associated technology. It is important to also get feedback from the community to ensure that any bond proposal request reflects community sentiment.
BX: What is the school’s vetting process in determining if their facilities need updating?
BS: Hire an architect to do a facilities assessment, let the facilities committee review it and make a determinations as to how we move forward.
BX: How important is the role of an architect in raising community awareness, prior to placing a bond on the ballot?
BS: Hugely important. The architect needs to be a good listener and then help the facilities committee articulate the compelling need for facilities updates that would resonate within the community. He/she needs to understand what the community would support in the face of facility needs and offer design recommendations accordingly.
BX: What are the benefits of having a Construction Manager in place prior to bidding out projects?
BS: In my experience, the CM helps the facilities committee understand the cost associated with the committee’s vision for facility updates. In this way, the overall project maintains perspective in the context of what the community would support.
BX: What effect does the competitive bidding process have on the various projects within a bond? How does this process help the school?
BS: It’s crucial to getting the fairest price. My advice to other superintendents involved with a bond project is to stay true to the integrity of the bidding process. In a competitive environment, companies may challenge you to deviate from that process. If you succumb to that pressure, the district is then vulnerable to litigation.
BX: What part can the Builders Exchange of Michigan play in facilitating the competitive bidding process?
BS: You can keep everything transparent and public so that districts get the highest quality work at the fairest price.
This article was originally featured in the Spring 2019 Bonds Issue of The Source, our bi-annual magazine mailed to thousands of project owners, architects, engineers, and all BX members!
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