September 11, 2017 Published in Schools, Top Stories

Joint City-Schools Facility Investment Task Force Reviews And Prioritizes Draft Evaluation Criteria

By Sarah Paez


Meeting of the Joint City-Schools Facility Investment Task Force (Photo: Sarah Paez)

On Thursday, Sept. 7, the Joint City-Schools Facility Investment Task Force held its third meeting. The Task Force reviewed and discussed the Draft Criteria it intends to use as a project prioritization process for Alexandria City’s Capital Improvement Plan for FY2019 to FY2028. In the wake of a City and Schools facilities tour, Task Force members took a “best value” approach and used three key criteria to evaluate projects: need and relative urgency; project readiness and value to Alexandria.

After the July 13 meeting, the Task Force divided into subcommittees. Task Force member Elliott Branch chairs the Capital Planning & Implementation Subcommittee, Task Force member Mignon Anthony chairs the Alternative Project Delivery Methods Subcommittee and Task Force member Amy Liu chairs the Facility Maintenance & Operations Subcommittee. Each subcommittee chair gave an update.

Facilitated by Beth Penfield of Brailsford & Dunlavey, the Task Force reviewed and discussed the application of its Draft Evaluation Criteria to the CIP candidate projects. While discussing the criterion of urgency, Task Force member Dwight Dunton asked if there was a way to push three projects out in an interim measure to mitigate the risk of what Branch called, as an example, not replacing the roof at Cora Kelly. Penfield added Risk Mitigation Conditions and Interim Measures to the list of Task Force strategies.

The Task Force’s second criterion of project readiness includes prioritizing projects that already have sites secured, with planning underway and informed budgets. “When there’s a need for urgency a project can be accelerated,” said Department of Planning and Zoning Director Karl Mauritz. He said that it takes on average 18 months to ready a project site.

“One of my observations going through the school tour,” said Liu, “is that everything seems really urgent.”

Penfield recommended spacing both school and fire station renovations steadily over the CIP timeline so as not to frontload elementary school projects that all require swing space and fire station renovations that require temporary closings.

“Swing space affects school construction need,” said Liu.

“We have developed schools without using swing space,” responded Task Force Chair Lynn Hampton. “If it costs 15% more” to not move the students, she said, “play that against moving kids across town to a swing space.”

Liu asked if relocation of students would be a factor in the readiness criterion. Task Force member Micheline Caston-Smith replied, “I think it is.”

 Dunton said that moving students might not be the best decision for the kids or the school operation. He posited that George Mason Elementary School could close down its soccer fields for construction while allowing school use to continue. “If we can find a way to put in an optimal swing space immediately, that would be ideal,” he said.

Some projects in the CIP have been delayed. In an August 15 memo, City Manager Mark Jinks wrote, “The City's firing range has been under ongoing staff and outside expert review, and is in worse condition than thought a year ago with the estimated cost of upgrading/minimally fixing the facility having risen substantially to over $4 million (or more).” The facility has been temporarily closed on the recommendation of Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown.

During the Task Force meeting, Director of the Department of General Services for the City of Alexandria, Jeremy McPike, said the City was, “identifying [new] sites, some of which are 20 miles away.”

During discussion of the third criterion, demonstration of value to Alexandria, Branch took issue with weighing the consequence of delay. “If there is no consequence, it’s not urgent,” he said, citing that there was no way a project could make it to the final evaluation criterion without passing the first criterion of urgency. He said that opportunity cost might be a better measure of evaluation.

Task Force member Dave Millard warned the Task Force not to be constrained by its own viewpoints. “We are looking in, but our peripheral vision can miss other solutions,” he said. Dunton clarified Millard’s point, saying some solutions don’t work in context, which necessitates thinking about problems in a broader scope.

Liu echoed these concerns, speaking of her “discomfort of…endorsing the projects as they are.” She said she did not want to question the recommendations of the ACPS staff that had contributed to the development of the Long Range Educational Facilities Plan and ACPS CIP, but remained wary of plans to consolidate the preschool into one building and the automatic consideration of Minnie Howard School as the second site for the expansion of the high school. In the first case, she said, low-income families might not be inclined to drive “all the way across town” to a new preschool site. In the second case, she felt there was a lack of public discussion and consideration of alternative sites surrounding the high school expansion.

Interim ACPS Superintendent Lois Berlin wanted to prioritize “full service schools” that include health and social services. This type of design follows the community school model, an inclusive, civic-oriented education experience. Hampton did not know if the Task Force could evaluate every school using those criteria, but said it could the make strong recommendations for using the community school model to the City.

One Task Force member asked, “Should we be looking at all buildings to be green buildings?” Branch said an environmental design recommendation might be subject to political decision-making, thereby rendering it an unsuitable consideration.

Hampton urged the Task Force to consider the question: “Is this the most cost-effective way of accomplishing the project?”

In mid- to late-October, according to Berlin, the Task Force should have a draft of its project prioritization list. “You’ll basically come to some summary conclusions,” she said. The Task Force’s October report to the City Council must be completed before the Council submits the FY18 budget.

The next Task Force meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 21 from 9-11 a.m. in the Council Work Room at City Hall.

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