Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What the? Why is a local councilmember the one to notify the DC Dept. of General Services that construction in an elementary school building is defective?

See "$25 million renovation 'defective' at DC elementary school" in the Examiner.  From the story:

With ground broken in January 2010, the project included a 35,000-square-foot addition, modernized classrooms, and updates for the cafeteria and hallways. One of the highest-performing DC Public Schools campuses, Janney has attracted a healthy student enrollment over the years, requiring an expansion.

But when Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh visited Janney recently, she said she discovered "defective" work. "The flooring was cracking and lifting up and things of that nature -- buckling and lifting up in places," Cheh said. "There were leaks in the entranceway, all the trees had died and the gym -- which is on top of the library -- was supposed to be insulated. The principal described it as listening to a herd of buffalo when kids are in the library."

After being alerted by Cheh, the General Services Department dispatched workers to Janney, who put in temporary flooring and are planning to install a more permanent fix during the school year. Officials are seeking a recommendation regarding the gym from a consultant.

This parallels an entry in GGW about the expense of transportation projects ("Are contractors wasting public money? We don't know").  While the article didn't say much, the comments were pretty good, and among other areas, focused on project management and the capacity of government agencies to monitor projects (also see "Contractor denies concrete error at Silver Spring Transit Center" also from the Examiner).

Construction project management is difficult in any circumstances and typically the private sector pays better so it's hard for government agencies to retain good people, not to mention the fact that frequently, paying good people what they are worth and retaining knowledge and skill isn't a priority for government anyway.
Eastern Market Fire
Bruce Faust, battalion chief for the District of Columbia Fire and EMS, looks over the damage inside of Eastern Market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington on Monday, April 30, 2007. An early morning fire ravaged Eastern Market on Monday, gutting part of the 134-year-old Capitol Hill landmark and devastating many vendors and residents who consider the historic public market the soul of the neighborhood (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin).

People at Eastern Market
Eastern Market today.

Curtis Clay, no longer with what was then called the DC Department of Real Estate Services, was the construction project manager for the rebuilding of DC's Eastern Market, the public market building that was wrecked by a devastating fire in April 2007.  The building re-opened in September 2009.  He left a few months later.  But at the grand opening press conference, I commented to him that despite all the politicos speaking, he was the true and unheralded hero of the day, because he did a damn good job shepherding and overseeing the project.

Skills like that are rare.

In the case of DC oversight of real estate generally, while I thought that the move by the Fenty Administration to consolidate services, such as have all the lawns at government agency facilities be cut via one master contract rather than through separate contracts with each agency, was a good idea and lowered costs, I was really leery of the Gray Administration's creation of a Department of General Services, modeled after the federal government GSA--and you know they've had some problems...--although other local governments do something similar, because it creates a very large agency with a lot of responsibilities in a government that has had some very serious problems with the quality of execution.

If you haven't demonstrated robust capacity already, stretching capacity further by creating a massive consolidated agency (e.g., like all the issues with DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which suffers from similar problems) is likely a mistake, unless it is used as the opportunity for significant improvements in management, staff, focus and business process redesign.

Obviously, if it doesnt work at the scale of one relatively small project, it doesn't bode well for the overall approach.

Still, the project managers at DGS should have been all over the problems at Janney Elementary, long before complaints would be percolating up to the local Councilmember.

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