On March 26, 2015, the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees voted 9-0 to approve a bridge plan that would start a first round of renovations for public schools that would culminate in several waves of renovations, provided the district could get a $1.6 billion bond package passed.
That night, trustee Eric Cowan reminded the beneficiaries – Lakewood Elementary and Stonewall Jackson Elementary in particular – that a bond election would be coming because there were many more schools with many, many needs. His vote, he said, would be a leap of faith, an exercise in trust that the supporters of those schools would help get the bond passed.
Fast forward to now and that bond election did indeed pass. But last week, it looked like some of those schools that were prioritized for the bridge plan would have to wait for their renovations. As the news made the rounds, parents began to organize and both District 2 school board candidates sprung into action.
The four schools who faced a longer wait were Lakewood Elementary, Stonewall Jackson Elementary, Nathan Adams Elementary and Seagoville High.
“I learned last Thursday, May 12th of the recommendation to delay Bridge Plan projects on 4 schools including Lakewood Elementary and Stonewall Jackson,” District 2 candidate Dustin Marshall said on Facebook. “I strongly disagree with this decision made by the administration, and I have been working diligently with several parent leaders to change the outcome of this decision.”
“As someone who spearheaded advocacy in favor of the IBP because of my concern over unsafe and inadequate facilities, I am deeply vested in having the IBP projects move forward in the original timeframe to which the District committed,” Mita Havlick, another candidate, informed her supporters. “No child should have to learn – and no teacher should have to teach – in a classroom that doesn’t meet basic standards for safety and comfort.”
Marshall indicated that he had also been in meetings with current trustees and Dallas ISD administration and had also “set-up introductory discussions with a third-party construction firm (not involved in the bidding process) to verify that the initial bids are in line with market conditions.”
Havlick’s note indicated that she had been in communication with both chairs of the Lakewood and Stonewall Jackson Site-Based Decision Making committee, as well as “four of the eight current trustees.”
And just this morning, Lakewood Elementary Expansion Foundation supporters were contacting members of the media and sending out bulletins to LEEF members and Lakewood parents to keep them apprised of events as they unfolded.
“Lakewood Elementary’s bids were approximately $3.5M over the allocated $9.47M for construction costs,” LEEF said in a call-to-action distributed this morning. “Note that there were four bidders on the project and therefore we can feel confident that the overages are due to ongoing high construction demand affecting market pricing.”
But almost as quickly as the bulletins were sent out came word that the district had reconsidered its position.
“Although bids for these Bridge projects came in well over budget due to market conditions and other factors, the recommendation is to reject and rebid (the) Seagoville High School addition and go forward with the other elementary school projects, Nathan Adams ES, Lakewood ES, and Stonewall Jackson ES, per the bid evaluations,” Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said in a memo today. The memo also revealed that the Seagoville High School project only received one bid at close to $400 per square foot, which was “significantly higher than current values in the North Texas area.”
Why are the bids coming in so much higher? “The Contractor industry has suggested that the cost overruns are due to an unanticipated large number of attractive projects in the area (a possible bubble of construction activity), a lack of subcontractor labor availability, a lack of material availability (notably concrete), and competition from the private sector that lacks the governmental controls established to protect the District,” Hinojosa wrote in the memo.
The additional funds needed to meet the overages will likely come from remaining 2008 bond funds, Hinojosa proposed. In the meantime, the district will apparently begin working on efforts to market future projects (including the now back-to-the-drawing-board Seagoville High) better by meeting with construction industry organizations and their members.
With the bidding process kicking off for the first tier of schools in the 2015 bond package, this could throw a real monkey wrench in the budgeting process. While nobody at the district has said so, many parents of students in tier 4 and 5 schools, which will not see renovations for quite some time, are worried about whether overages will eat into their respective and worthy projects as well.
More on that later.