Sunday, April 11, 2004

Great care was taken in choosing school building overseer

By Alton Frailey
Guest columnist

The article "Cost of overseer questioned" (April 8) was not quite adequate in explaining the cost of my proposal to hire a program coordinator for our Facilities Master Plan and how we got to where we are.

I want to first address the cost issue. We have a negotiated proposal for three years at a cost of up to $6.9 million for program coordinator services. The proposed three-year agreement is based on the Board of Education's recommendation, so that we would be able to evaluate the effectiveness of the firm we contract to do this work without being committed for the entire 10-year Facilities Master Plan.

Could we contract for more dollars above the $6.9 million? If we feel the quality of work, efficiencies, potential savings and value-added warrants it, yes, we can. However, any costs associated with this service would be within what is recognized as the industry standard for such fees.

It is important to note that the need and value of having such professional expertise is not what is being debated and did not spring up this morning. In August 2003, I appeared before the board's Facilities Committee and presented my request to obtain program coordinator services. I explained the reasons why and received supportive comments from representatives of the state's construction management firm for the Facilities Master Plan. During the Aug. 25, 2003, meeting of the full board, the Facilities Committee recommended approval of my request. The board did so with a 7-0 vote.

From early October through November 2003, we developed the request for qualifications document incorporating input from various board members. During January this year, top-level staff and I interviewed six firms and reached unanimous agreement on the team we felt was best positioned to quickly get up to speed and serve the district's interests. We communicated this to the board and brought members of the partnership forward to present their proposed scope of work and to respond to the board's questions. Since this presentation, we have responded in writing to additional lists of questions from the board and devoted the board's recent Committee of the Whole meeting entirely to answering additional questions. We also have worked with the firm and our legal counsel to prevent duplication of effort. A chart has been shared outlining the various responsibilities of each entity.

There is no question in my mind that we need additional expertise to manage the multiple construction and renovation projects within our Facilities Master Plan. We can contract for bits and pieces, or we can employ a more systemic approach. We can either contract a partnership with expertise in this area, or we can put more staff on the payroll. However, any staff we hire will not have the resources behind them that is offered by the collaborative I am recommending. I am confident that we will add value and more assurance in the management of this massive school facilities program, which will benefit every child in Cincinnati Public Schools.

Construction is not our core business. However, we will be held accountable for how these projects are managed and coordinated. I'm just asking for the tools to get it right before we get too far down the road.


Alton Frailey is superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools.

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