Builders Exchange of Michigan: What updates have you recently made to your school’s facilities? How have these changes impacted the staff and students?
Mark Greathead, Woodhaven-Brownstown Public Schools: We renovated and updated all our schools, which consisted of five elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. At Woodhaven High School, we added new spaces in the form of a career-tech wing, natatorium, gymnasium, and main office. Renovations at WHS included transforming the old office and media center into a Project-Based Learning Zone (PBLZ). Our students and staff take great pride in the education facilities. Most reactions to the improvements at WHS compare it to a small college.
Paul Thwing & Christine Thomas-Hill, Traverse City Area Public Schools: The most recent updates to our facilities incorporate and were initiated to provide a more visible and secure entrance at our facilities. Each project has other components included, so no two are identical. These added components address facility needs specific to each building. As with any change, becoming accustomed to new surroundings or new procedure takes a minute of patience and a little training. However, the reception has been very positive, and the next sites are anxious for their renovation to begin.
Jon Laing, Lansing School District: We have made lots of improvements to our facilities in the last couple of years with funds from the bond that was approved by the Lansing community in May 2016. All facilities received upgrades to our network, wireless and phone systems. Most schools have already received new furniture in the classroom and final orders and placement will take place this summer and next summer. We have also had some renovations and upgrades to a few of our elementary schools and some major renovations and additions to both Post Oak and Dwight Rich elementary schools. However, one of the most impactful projects was converting Pattengill Middle School into the new Eastern High School, replacing the Historic Eastern High School that was built in the 1920’s. Eastern High School also had some new athletic facilities constructed, highlighted by a football/soccer/track stadium – the first home football field in school history. The major impact on staff and students is a sense of “value”. We have talked to several principals and teachers on this subject and the students and their families just appreciate having something done to their schools, even if it’s just a fresh coat of paint in the classrooms.
BX: Has your school constructed safety and security upgrades in the last few years? If so, how do you believe these will impact your staff and students? If not, do you plan to upgrade these soon?
WBPS: Yes; we installed additional surveillance systems, directed and secure entrances, and additional safety and security enhancements. We believe that this helps to ensure our staff, students, and community that we make their safety a top priority
TCAPS: Yes; four schools saw additions and renovations to their main entrances and main office areas in 2019. Two more schools will see similar renovations and additions in 2020 and planning is underway for continuing these security projects at the remaining district facilities.
LSD: Yes, as part of our bond projects we upgraded and added additional video surveillance cameras to all district facilities. Upgrades have also been completed to replace some exterior doors and locks at some facilities with the plan in the future to greatly reduce the number of exterior doors accessible by keys by using a card reader program instead. Additionally, as part of a facilities analysis, we are reviewing the possibility of adding secured entrance vestibules at our schools. A few of the schools already have those in place and it is in the construction plans for our project at Everett High School that will commence this spring.
BX: How vocal has the community been in letting you know what is a priority regarding facility updates/upgrades?
WBPS: We utilized a ‘Blue Sky’ committee, comprised of 40 citizens, that worked with our architectural firm in guiding the vision for our improvements. We also had a grassroots initiative that was instrumental in promoting the needed support for this work.
TCAPS: Each school has parent groups that participate in these projects whether as part of the PTO group or in a review group for a specific project. Opinions and comments are readily given and received by school and operations staff to be incorporated in the design of these projects.
LSD: The community has been very vocal and involved in setting the priorities for our facility upgrades. Prior to the May 2016 bond vote, and our May 2019 sinking fund vote, we had several meetings involving community members to help discuss and provide input to support the ballot issues.
BX: What were the steps used to secure an architect or construction manager to help assess your current school facilities and the need for updates? How was your experience with this process and do you feel it led to a successful bond proposal?
WBPS: We have a long-standing and very positive relationship with our architectural firm, French Associates, and construction management company, McCarthy & Smith. We believe that our continued success is due to these strong relationships.
TCAPS: Several years ago, an architectural engineering firm provided TCAPS with an assessment report. Recently, in preparation for the 2018 Capital Bond vote, that assessment of district needs was reevaluated and re-prioritized through input from our community and parents, onsite staff, principals, teachers, our facilities and capital projects groups, and an understanding of best practices surrounding identified needs. Changes in educational and curricular programs, the evolution of security requirements, changes in staff, and other internal and external factors had an influence on the re-prioritization, however the goal has remained the same; provide the best environment we can to support student success. It wasn’t until after priorities had been reestablished that architects, engineers and construction managers were selected through an RFP process for specific projects and/or continuing services.
LSD: Because of previous work and facilities assessments performed by our architect for the district it was decided to continue with C2AE as the architect for our bond projects and partner with them to help develop and promote the bond application and proposal. However, the district waited until after the bond was approved to issue an RFP and subsequently conduct post-bid interviews for construction management before selecting Christman Co. for our bond construction manager. We were very happy with the support, especially given the bond passed with a 67% approval.
BX: What affect does the competitive bidding process have on the various bond projects? How does this process help the school?
WBPS: It ensures that local companies have a fair opportunity for work while allowing the school district the ability to receive fair pricing and to thoroughly vet interested parties.
TCAPS: On the surface competitive bidding provides the appearance of quality at the lowest available cost. But without review or investigation of the proposals, contractors, and subcontractors, you have no guarantee how the price you were quoted will be the actual project cost. Some institutions have gone to prequalifying their contractors and subcontractors so there is some expectation about the quality of work that will be delivered based on previous work completed. One of our biggest hurdles in the current market is the high demand on the shrinking labor force. Securing experienced reliable contractors and subcontractors for our projects puts us in direct competition with other entities seeking the same for their projects which effectively drives up the cost of construction.
LSD: Competitive bidding has a great effect on our school bond projects, though it is required according the State of Michigan Revised School Code 380.1267 and 380.1274 so we are obligated to follow the specific guidelines. Competitive bidding helps to ensure a fair process for all contractors who can perform the work according to the scope and specifications set forth in the project documents. There are times when we are asked if there is a budget for projects. While we generally have an estimate in mind, this is never released to any potential contractors or interested parties in order to ensure the integrity of the competitive bidding process. As long as contractors submit honest and realistic proposals, we are able to compare to our estimated budget and judge whether or not the contractor appears to have understood the full scope of the project, or undervalued/overvalued the work and further discussion may be needed to clarify the proposal submitted.
BX: How important is the transparency of posting advertisements to bid on school construction projects? How does this transparency benefit the school and it’s community?
WBPS: It is very important in terms of gaining exposure and drawing interest in our projects. It is also the foundation of trust that our community is built on to ensure that we take our fiscal responsibilities seriously.
TCAPS: Transparency isn’t an option when we post requests or advertisements for bids. We are required by the State of Michigan and our own Board of Education to follow certain guidelines and requirements when advertising our projects. Transparency doesn’t start or end with the advertisement for bids. Transparency starts in our projects at the assessment level, builds into the inception of an idea, and continues through completion and occupancy. The benefit of full involvement of users and stakeholders and a review of the built project is used in the design of the next project.
LSD: The previously mentioned MCL codes require public school districts to publish construction projects in a local news publication (in our case the Lansing State Journal) and on the State of Michigan’s designated procurement web site. In addition, we also post all our construction project bids on the District’s own web site and notify the various local Builders Exchanges in Michigan. The transparency of advertising and posting construction projects is important for the community to know what projects are being planned. The public has given the District their trust in improving facilities when passing bonds and sinking funds, they like to know their tax dollars are being used for projects that were promised.
Mark Greathead, Superintendent
Woodhaven-Brownstown School District
Paul D. Thwing, R.A., Director of Capital Projects & Planning
Christine Thomas-Hill, Associate Superintendent of Finance and Operations
Traverse City Area Public Schools
Jon Laing, Chief Financial Officer
Lansing School District
This article was originally featured in The Source.