"This morning, we held a Special Board of Education meeting regarding the potential new construction of Hinsdale Middle School. Below is a brief highlight of the action taken today.
After Public Comment, representatives from Cordogan Clark and Associates (architects) and Pepper Construction (construction manager and cost estimator) outlined design options that were developed to reduce the estimate presented at the Board meeting held Monday, December 14. Board members then shared questions and comments regarding a number of related issues, including cost, design considerations, square footage, community views, etc. Following discussion, Board members voted to approve a resolution to place a $65 million referendum question on the ballot for community vote in the March 15, 2016 election (Vote 5-2; Nay: Gray, Giltner). Therefore, please note that we will be moving forward with a referendum for new construction of HMS."
The email ends stating that a more detailed board meeting summary will be issued next week. Well, we are so appalled at what transpired this morning that we aren't going to make our readers wait for the "official district communication" before publishing our commentary on the vote.
The BOE has spoken. This morning, 5 board members -- Garg, Vorobiev, Burns, Clarin and Turek -- voted yes to place a $65 million referendum question on the March 2016 election ballot to raise funds for a new middle school. This vote comes, in our opinion, after a masterful Bait and Switch game that was played out right under the noses of 7 (or at least 6*) highly intelligent board members and the entire D181 taxpaying community by the administration and possibly the one lone board member who has a construction background. Only 2 board members realized this and tried to put a stop to it. Before we elaborate, we want to give a HUGE SHOUT OUT of THANKS to Leslie Gray and Richard Giltner who were the only board members to let rationality, fiscal responsibility and thoughtfulness guide their NO votes. While they lost the vote this morning, they have earned the respect of all D181's taxpayers who know that their NO votes were the right votes.
Now on to the explanation of the Bait and Switch game.
Healy Bender used to be the D181's "go to" architecture firm. In 2013, they prepared an Education Adequacy Analysis of the district's facilities and (per the discussion this morning) estimated that a new HMS would cost $65 million. However, less than 7 months ago, on June 1, 2015, the BOE decided to host a design competition and a Request for Proposal was released. As the D181 website states:
"On June 1, 2015 we sent a Request for Proposals (RFP) to a number of architectural firms with two goals: (1) to see design concepts for Hinsdale Middle School (HMS) showing renovation and new construction options, and (2) to receive cost estimates for those options. " (Source: http://www.d181.org/our-district/facilities-master-plan-hms/architectural-firm-selection/index.aspx).
Apparently, even though Healy had been the architect that over the last seventeen years designed earlier D181schools and renovations, they were not selected as the default firm to use for this project. In fact, they did not even submit a design concept. We would surmise that this is in great part due to the sticker shock their 2013 $65 million estimate caused.
So a design competition moved forward, fully supported by a Facilities Committee that worked for the last couple of years identifying and addressing district facilities needs at HMS and the 8 other schools. Three firms submitted and subsequently presented design proposals to the community at public meetings held at the Hinsdale Public Library in September 2015.
Legat Architects' proposal projected a full cost in the amount of $ 56,541,533. (Source: http://www.d181.org/data/files/gallery/ContentGallery/Legat_Architects__CCSD_181__Cost_Estimate.pdf).
Wight and Company's proposal projected a full cost in the amount of $54,900,000. (Source: http://www.d181.org/data/files/gallery/ContentGallery/consolidated_submittal_20150821_hinsdale_ccsd_181_arch_svcs_and_conceptual_design_wight__company.pdf).
Cordogan Clark & Associates' proposal projected a full cost in the amount of $46,876,115. (Source: http://www.d181.org/data/files/gallery/ContentGallery/CCSD_181_RFPArchitectural_Services_web.pdf).
After a back and forth debate over which of the three firms to select, controversy over the method the Facilities Committee used to rank the firms and delay by the BOE (which was warranted) in voting on which firm to select -- the BOE sent the rankings back to the facilities for further evaluation -- on October 19, 2015, the BOE picked Cordogan Clark & Associates.
At that point in time, there was no discussion or concerns raised suggesting that the Cordogan proposal (or for that matter, any of the three) was significantly below the $65 million Healy estimate from 2013. After all, why would there be? The Cordogan proposal came in $18 million below the $65 million estimate! No one -- not Ken Surma (Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations administrator), Gary Clarin (Chair of the Facilities committee and with all his "expertise" in construction), any other Facilities committee member, Dr. White or any other BOE member questioned this amount or suggested that ANY of the proposals had missed the mark and were way too low. On the contrary, some board members raised concerns that there were aspects of the proposal that perhaps should be eliminated-- such as the auditorium -- in order to bring the costs down and create greater parity between a new HMS and the existing CHMS. A decision was made to move ahead to negotiate the architect contract and fees and bring the contract to the BOE for a vote at the November 9 board meeting. Clarin, Giltner and Ken Surma were tasked with negotiating the fees with Cordogan Clark & Associates.
At the November 9, 2016 meeting, the contract and architect fees were still being negotiated, so the BOE was unable to vote to approve the contract. Of significance, however, was that there was absolutely no indication that the original costs of a new HMS floated by Cordogan were about to sky rocket. Instead, a Special Meeting was called for November 19 to further discuss the upcoming tax levy and the contract with Cordogan. On November 19, however, there was further delay. Only 4 board members were available to attend the meeting and those who were present were not given enough time to review the proposed contract. So once again, the vote on the fee contract was tabled, this time for nearly one additional month until the December 14 meeting at which the BOE was also scheduled to decide whether to go to referendum next March. Yet again, on November 19, there was no indication that Cordogan's projected costs were about to escalate dramatically from the original $47 million proposal.
Then came December 14 -- ah yes, a date that will live in infamy.....the date when the $73 million bomb was dropped on both the BOE and the taxpaying community, along with an agenda item calling for the BOE to decide that night whether to go to referendum. We won't rehash the shock and awe expressed by community members and FOUR board members -- Gray, Giltner, Vorobiev and Burns -- at the 55% increase in total project costs, as well as the disgust over the "Data Dump" dropped on them at the eleventh hour by the administration. As one reader commented earlier today, until that date, the administration -- A.K.A. Dr. White -- had publicly represented that he expected the cost of the project to be LOWER than any one of the design concepts submitted by the 3 firms and at no time suggested that the costs would or should be HIGHER or closer to the $65 million Healy Bender estimate.
Here is part of what the commenter submitted:
"Portion of Anonymous Comment: For confirmation of the hypocrisy shown by Dr. White during this morning’s meeting, please read the following article published in the Hinsdale Doings on September 12, 2015:
Here's the relevant quote:
"District 181 initially estimated the cost of building a new school at $65 million; however, estimates from the architects were $47 million to $57 million from Legat Architects and about $50 million from both Cordogan Clark & Associates, and Wight & Company. "I think the ultimate cost will be even lower," White said. "None of the proposals from the three architects are going to be built exactly as proposed. Things will be tweaked, and I'm sure there will be things in their proposals that we won't do, which will reduce costs."
Yet today Dr. White made a point of asserting that $65 million has always been the target $ amount."
At last Monday's (12/14) board meeting, there was still no talk of the Healy Bender $65 million estimate. In fact, we have reviewed all the board meeting summaries since the design competition was held and we have not found a single reference to the Healy Bender $65 million estimate being part of the BOE discussions held as it contemplated eliminating some of the features Cordogan had included its original designs. Instead, last Monday Dr. White acknowledged that the plans had grown and were now more costly as a result of meetings Cordogan held with HMS teachers, after which the building square footage increased, and new bells and whistles were added. As he stated, some of the increases were wants, not needs, that the teachers had identified.
As a result of the sudden skyrocketing costs, a majority of the BOE refused to vote to go to referendum until it had more time to process and discuss all of the new information. However, because of the statutory deadline it was facing to approve referendum language prior to December 28, in order to get it on the March 2016 election ballot, and the desire of all board members to participate in a meeting, the only available date was four days later -- December 19. In the short time frame between the meetings, the BOE tasked Dr. White with meeting with the architects and HMS staff to try and bring the costs down. There was reference to the "survey" the community took, including a maximum referendum cost of $65 million, but this was NOT given as a justification for the skyrocketing costs, nor was there any discussion that in fact the costs were as predicted by the Healy Bender 2013 estimate.
At some point in time between the 12/14 and 12/19 meeting, the administration gave the BOE new documentation on Options A and B. These options brought the $73 million price tag down slightly -- Option A would have cost $66,451,803. Option B would have cost $63,709,009. The community got to see those options for the first time on Thursday. However, suddenly late Friday, an additional Data Dump was posted on Board Docs that included documentation regarding the Healy Bender $65 million estimate. That's right, last night. Which of course means that the BOE probably didn't get it before then either. This could explain Board Member Giltner's comment today that this second Data Dump prevented Board Members from having enough time to process all the new information before the Special Meeting.
During the BOE meeting today -- for the first time -- the focus suddenly shifted to justifying new Options A and B costs by stating that they are in line with Healy Bender's $65 million estimate. Suddenly Dr. White was no longer surprised or concerned about the inflated costs, which Board Member Gray appropriately pointed out were still 1/3 greater than the number she and other board members had been relying upon as the total project costs. Suddenly, Board Member Vorobiev was no longer concerned (as she had been on 12/14) with the huge cost increase. Nor was Board Member Burns concerned enough with the hugely inflated costs to vote with Gray and Giltner to slow down the process so it could be properly vetted before going to a public referendum vote. The magic $65 million number was suddenly acceptable and palatable to 5 board members.
Yes, the Bait and Switch was complete. A triumph for whoever the mastermind was who came up with this successful strategy. Sure, people wanted a NEW, not a RENOVATED HMS. But people were aghast in 2013 at the suggestion that a NEW HMS would cost $65 million. So the administration led the board to hold a design competition. The concepts -- all of them -- were well below the $65 million, but still very expensive and filled with Taj Mahal qualities that would create unfair disparities between the new HMS and existing CHMS. All the while the BOE was pushing for additional designs that would show how to reduce the overall costs and possibly eliminate certain extravagances -- such as a running track and auditorium -- it appears that behind the scenes the opposite was taking place. The scope of the project was growing, not shrinking, and the costs were shooting through the roof.
In order for a majority of the BOE to take the BAIT, it is our opinion that the costs were pushed well above the $65 million mark to $73 million. And then came the SWITCH. Fast financial fingers and rapid fire changes in the four days between the 12/14 and 12/19 meeting brought the numbers of two NEW options down to either $66,451,803 or $63,709,009.
And now for the magic of numbers.
If you add $66,451,803 and $63,709,009 and then divide the sum by 2, guess what number you get?
Voila! You get $65,080,406!
As if by magic, you get $65 million -- the magical original Healy Bender number!! And guess what happened this morning? Once it was clear that a majority of the BOE had fallen for the Healy Bender argument, someone -- oh yes it was Turek -- suggested that the BOE simply accept $65 million as the amount it should approve to go to referendum for.
Yes, the Bait and Switch was complete.
We will leave it to our readers to decide if you think this kind of ploy is acceptable in D181. Notwithstanding all the delays, costs changes and shenanigans that preceded today's vote, we are hard pressed to believe that any of you will find what took place under all our noses as something that should be blindly accepted by the community.
As an old saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
How many of you will allow the administration and board majority to continue fooling the community?
* We leave it to our readers to decide who on the board is not highly intelligent.