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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: How I would have done the school facilities planning

OPINION/EDITORIAL by Rebecca Hazlewood

How I would have done the planning process for the facilities program for the West Contra Costa Unified School District, if I had been in charge

Way back when, at least four years ago, there was a committee called The Disaster Planning Collaborative. As part of this committee there was a Facilities Subcomittee, which included a few highly skilled individuals in the area of engineering and city planning, who were also parents in the district. The rest of the committee was composed of highly motivated individuals in the school district including teachers, parents and district staff.

This group recommended that engineering studies be commenced as soon as was feasible to determine the actual state of the buildings in the West Contra Costa School District. These studies were to include, among many other things, a detailed look at the seismic safety of the district's buildings. The studies were pegged at the outside at about $25,000 per site and were to contain the latest methodology in terms of engineering evaluation. Broad specs were drawn up for the studies.When the district responded that it did not have the money to conduct the studies the committee then recommended identifying the most seismicallysensitive sites based on currently accepted building standards and study just those sites. The committee identified seven sites as being the most seismically vulnerable. The district still rejected the recommendation. And, so the $500 million plan was born that claimed to have surveyed every site to produce a tab of facilities repair at$500 million. Seismic issues were left out of the plan.

As the campaigning for Measure M began to unfold this group, for whatever reason, more or less ceased to exist. One of its members sent out a notice to interested stakeholders that if you care about seismic safety contact the below number. I did so. At this time my son had just entered Portola. I was directed to a wealth of information on previous facilities planning efforts. I wanted this information, that had already been put together by individuals more informed than I on the facilities question, to get into the debate. I brought to Portola several of the individuals who had been on the original facilities committee to discuss the engineering studies that they had originally recommended be conducted at each site. After hearing these individuals speak, the Portola PTA passed a resolution in January or February of 2001 asking the district to conduct such an engineering study at Portola. In May of 2001 the Portola Disaster Preparedness Committee and several of the individuals who had been on the original facilities committee met with Dr. Fred Stewart and Vince Kilmartin to go over the specifications of the engineering study which was ostensibly to be conducted at Portola. To my knowledge this engineering study has not been conducted at Portola.

Now here is where I would have done things differently if I had been in charge:
At a cost of $1,325,000 (for the district's 53 school sites), I would have had the engineering studies conducted at each site to really get an idea of what is going on in these buildings. This could have been covered as the first item of expenditure in Measure M. It might not have even cost this much as some of the sites are new and would probably not have needed to be included. Then with the facts in hand the district and the community could have begun a really collaborative planning process on how best to upgrade, repair, renovate, or replace these buildings.

$1.3 million seems like petty cash now.
Run dates: 2003-07-26 - 2003-08-09

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