Sep 11 2016

OPINION: Opponent of 2014 School Bond Supports 2016 Measure H1

The Facilities Steering Committee: A Step in the Journey from Context to Form. 

The ultimate object of design is form. To design is to fit a form to a context. The context includes all the constraints into which the form has to fit. The context reduces the set of possible forms. In some way, design is simple: understand the context, and then apply the appropriate set of engineering disciplines and trade arts to shape a form that fits. There is plenty of room for creativity and outstanding solutions provided they are grounded in the context. 

In the 2015 summer, the District launched a process to develop a plan to upgrade our secondary school facilities. Our superintendent leveraged internal expertise and an external consultant to assess the state of the facilities. In parallel he organized a number of meetings with parents, teachers, students, and the community at large to shape the broad parameters of the educational needs, another essential part of the context, with the goal of looking ahead:

How should we educate our students to best prepare them to function in our 21st century economy? What facilities do we need to support these evolving methods? These efforts were completed in January 2016 and resulted in two documents published on the PUSD website and presented to the Board of Education: the DRAFT Facility Site Assessment Report and a DRAFT Educational Specifications Report. 

It became clear that the context is very constraining and that the cost of meeting all the needs far exceeds the District maximum bonding capacity under a single measure. So choices have to be made. 

Tasked to make a recommendation on how to proceed, the Superintendent invited a number of Piedmont residents to join him, his senior staff, and a couple of Board members to form a Facilities Steering Committee and help shape that recommendation. I accepted to serve. From my experience in industry, reflection among a small committee was what was needed at this step in the process. 

The committee was disbanded in May having performed its functions. Its composition was very diverse with Piedmont residents from different professional backgrounds and perspectives. Our central focus was what would best serve our students. We functioned as a sounding board for the Superintendent and his staff in assessing the context and in helping generate, evaluate, and criticize potential forms that would fit. We were pressed by the Superintendent to help him set priorities so that forms could be designed to fit the financial constraint. Each one of us reached out to our friends in the community for help. My point of view was biased towards enhancing facilities to support a first class high school STEAM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics): our Bay Area economy is driven by creativity and creativity is rooted in these disciplines. Others emphasized the poor state of our Magnolia facilities, the substandard classroom sizes, the importance of fundamentals (we are a High School, not a College), the comforts of our teachers and students (better noise insulation, air conditioning, …)… 

Most meetings were shaped by the presentation of conceptual plans with cost estimates worked out by the District Facilities Manager that reflected changes in priorities argued in previous discussions. We worked out two major forms with options. Our final report to the Board “Recommending a $65 Million Bond Measure” is available on the school website (attachment to the May 25 School Board Meeting agenda) and includes the following main points: 

● The Board should not seek to “do the minimum” by only repairing buildings or replacing failing systems at the middle and high schools. This would not meet the most urgent of the educational needs, and in the medium term would be money wasted as major renovations will have to be eventually made to an aged campus. 

● The Board  should seek voter approval to issue school bonds at its available bonding capacity to address the bulk of the educational needs. 

● Confirming that it is not possible to address all of the needs within the bonding capacity, the Committee suggested a specific list of priorities. 

● The final form should be shaped through an open public process and flexibility be built into the bond measure. More community input is needed to review and make the final trade­offs. 

● A specific design is not recommended, as the die is far from being cast. The work is not lost, as the District Facilities Manager retains the designs done for future elaboration. 

I stand by the work done by the committee. As a former active opponent to the 2014 Measure H, I support Measure H1 put by the Board on the November ballot. The District has done its homework. But much more needs to be done: for example, we did not have time to research what other peer districts have done when faced with similar issues, and how well their projects have worked out. 

As a member of our vibrant community, you need to make up your mind on the Measure and select the board members which will implement an open transparent process and ensure accountability, both paramount given the flexibility built into the Measure. I urge the local professional expertise and educational/executive talent to get involved and bring new perspectives that will maximize the value obtained from our taxes and lead to such a compelling form that the entire community will say: “This is the obvious thing to do for our students; let us work out all the problems to make it happen”. 

 Bernard Pech, Piedmont Resident
Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author. The Piedmont Civic Association does not support or oppose ballot measures.

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