You may have read about the problems with school construction this summer in the Washington Post yesterday morning, but rest assured that D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray already knew what was up.

That’s because yesterday Gray sent a letter to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty raising questions about “about the nature of the work, how decisions are made concerning individual scopes of work and changes to those scopes, how funds are allocated among schools, how expenditures are monitored, and the quality of the resulting work.”

In the letter, Gray describes visits to construction sites made by council staff that found “tremendous variability in what work is done at each school.”

At one school the health suite was torn out because a memorandum preventing the demolition never got to the job site. At another school, doors were replaced even though the staff objected because they had been replaced in the last three years and were fine. The contractors apparently had them on their work list, and they insisted on doing what was on the list. At Ballou, the contractor painted the teachers lounge a few months after it had been refurbished, and yet the contractor on August 11 was under direction not to replace ceiling tile, leaving pipes and wiring exposed in a main hallway due to lack of funding. One school is lacking dry erase boards for newly installed classes and labs, while at another school ones which had been installed in the last year were replaced over staff objections.

Gray closes by highlighting the need for a Master Facilities Plan for DCPS: “As you know, the Council, at the request of your administration, has granted several extensions to the deadline for submitting the MFP. The new deadline is September 10th, and to date, we are aware of no effort to provide the promised opportunities for community participation.”

Full letter after the jump.

COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA THE JOHN A. WILSON BUILDING 1350 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE, NW WASHINGTON, DC 20004 VINCENT C. GRAY CHAIRMAN

August 20, 2008 The Honorable Adrian M. Fenty Mayor of the District of Columbia 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 327 Washington, DC 20004

RE: Summer School Facility Repairs

Dear Mayor Fenty:

As you are aware, the Council has approved over $240 million in contracts for the Office of Public Education Facilities Management (OPEFM) since June 6, 2008. Some $163 million of this amount is allocated for school closing/consolidation and summer “blitz” work, in addition to a number of contracts under $1 million each that do not require the approval of the Council. In addition, $28.9 million was approved for substantial repairs at four schools in May. Due to the magnitude of this investment, the Council is taking a close look at the results of these improvements and the benefits that they will provide to District of Columbia students and communities. In the last two weeks, Council staff has made inquiries about specific contracts and made 15 visits to school sites where we have approved school consolidation or blitz work and two visits to sites not included in a Council-approved contract. The staff found major improvements at a number of schools, particularly in new roofs, new computer and science labs, and newly painted walls, doors, and lockers. There is evidence of a special priority given to improved auditoriums by refinishing stage floors, painting walls, and providing new curtains at some schools. At other schools where the need also is obvious, such as Roosevelt High School, this work is apparently not being done. In fact, one of the findings from the site visits is that there is tremendous variability in what work is done at each school. A new roof was completed on one wing of Ballou High School, while an extensive patching of a very poor roof over the gymnasium occurred at MacFarland Middle School, raising questions of durability of the investment. Because the modernization fund was tapped by almost $125 million to make these repairs possible, it is very important that funds be spent well.

Also, the extreme rush to accomplish this work with little planning and, apparently, inadequate oversight of contractors, has led to a series of unnecessary repairs being done. At one school the health suite was torn out because a memorandum preventing the demolition never got to the job site. At another school, doors were replaced even though the staff objected because they had been replaced in the last three years and were fine. The contractors apparently had them on their work list, and they insisted on doing what was on the list. At Ballou, the contractor painted the teachers lounge a few months after it had been refurbished, and yet the contractor on August 11 was under direction not to replace ceiling tile, leaving pipes and wiring exposed in a main hallway due to lack of funding. One school is lacking dry erase boards for newly installed classes and labs, while at another school ones which had been installed in the last year were replaced over staff objections. The Wilson High School Management Corporation objected to the refinishing of one-half of the woodwork outside the main office (only half was in the scope) and sought more practical repairs instead, but was unsuccessful.

While these site reviews are not comprehensive or exhaustive, they have identified issues that deserve more consideration. They raise concerns about the nature of the work, how decisions are made concerning individual scopes of work and changes to those scopes, how funds are allocated among schools, how expenditures are monitored, and the quality of the resulting work. It is also clear that work identified as being part of the original scope can not be completed by today or in some cases even next week, as indicated by the following examples:

  • Asbestos abatement was underway in the Garnett Patterson/Shaw auditorium on August 14, preventing other work from being done in that area. This is a de facto acknowledgement that the work can not be finished before the start of school;
  • All carpet and large sections of resilient tile were being removed at Ferebee-Hope Elementary on August 11, but less than 5 square feet of replacement tile had been installed. Additionally, no plumbing work had started on that date according to school staff, and there were notations on the OPEFM work item list that electrical work needed a permit and plumbing repairs in the recreation area needed to be rescoped after August 15;
  • The air conditioning was out at both Roosevelt High School and West Elementary (PreK-7th) on August 14, and was described at both as being unreliable, even though work has been done in the last year; and
  • As the pictures enclosed illustrate, Eliot-Hine and Francis-Stevens schools are not learning ready. Moreover, these and Browne-Young, West Elementary and MacFarland Junior High, among other schools, were retroactive contracts, meaning the work was underway about the same time the contracts were presented to the Council. Under those circumstances, there was no reason for OPEFM to issue stop-work orders that delayed work two weeks.

Nonetheless, as I have alluded, not all repairs have been of high quality. A visit to Spingarn High School found that a recently installed stadium ramp for people with disabilities was poorly designed and has caused flooding of the restrooms and the storage room under the stadium, where $8,000 worth of mats had to be discarded.

In addition to issues surrounding the work itself, a recent letter to me by Allen Lew, Executive Director of OPEFM, raises the question of whether contracts approved by the Council this summer were adequately funded. Mr. Lew’s letter indicates that work will be curtailed at a number of schools because an $8.9 million reprogramming sent to the Council July 23rd has been delayed by a Council member issuing a disapproval resolution. Five of the seven schools Mr. Lew cites as examples were authorized as part of the first 13 contracts submitted to the Council this June. (We have no contracts involving the other two.) You placed considerable pressure on the Council to approve these contracts and two reprogramming actions for $124.6 million, submitted subsequent to the contracts, to enable the summer repair work to proceed. The acknowledgement that the certification of adequate funding by the Chief Financial Officer was not accurate is an unwelcome surprise.

There are other concerns that citizens have brought to my attention, such as work beginning well before contracts are authorized. I recently saw pictures of contractors at work taken prior to contracts being approved for two of the athletic field renovation projects. These should have submitted as retroactive contracts, but were not despite the fact that the Council was willing to approve seven other retroactive contracts. Staff also has email indicating that at least six other contracts may have required retroactive approval, but no such request was made.

The Council remains firmly behind educational reform and the improvement of facilities as part of the reform strategy. It is my strong belief, however, that Mr. Lew and his staff have been asked to do the impossible. This has been done before, and it has not been successful. Budget documents indicate substantial efforts to improve school facilities in each of the decades since Home Rule. But they have been done without the proper planning and interagency support that are essential to a well-executed initiative.

It should be obvious to all of us by now that we can not proceed successfully without the required Facilities Master Plan (MFP). Under current circumstances it appears that the District government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars without the necessary information and framework to make successful and lasting investments. I deeply regret these circumstances. As you know, the Council, at the request of your administration, has granted several extensions to the deadline for submitting the MFP. The new deadline is September 10th, and to date, we are aware of no effort to provide the promised opportunities for community participation.

Sincerely, Vincent C. Gray Chairman

cc: Chief Financial Officer Executive Director, OPEFM Deputy Mayor for Education City Administrator Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs Councilmembers of the District of Columbia