Should Project Lists be Specific or General?

FAQ 54

Should Project Lists be Specific or General?

There are significant ongoing debates on this.  It is certainly possible to read Prop. 39 and conclude that the project lists should be pretty specific – but many districts and construction program managers will reply that it is simply not practical to do that level of detailed planning, scheduling, and cost estimation on a large number of projects at different sites over a multi-year period – and there are far too many factors that can change. The district must be able to respond to unexpected changes, such as considerable increases in the costs of materials or a significant fire at a school.

Another common contention is that detailed planning for all proposed projects would require many personnel resources, take a long time, and be expensive.

This question could refer to two different lists.  The first is the list presented to the electorate in the bond ballot measure; the second is the list of individual projects developed as the school construction bond program proceeds to implementation.

As to the first, the list on the ballot issue, there is no consensus as to how detailed and specific this should be; some are very specific down to individual projects at individual schools; others very general, such as how money for new school construction and how much for five or ten particular programs.  It is not uncommon for districts to essentially put out a list that is a huge matrix, with one axis of the matrix a list of every existing school in the district and the other axis everything that could be done to a current school, from boiler replacement to upgrading the electrical system – plus a separate list for new schools, which may or may not be very specific as to site, grades, number of classrooms or student capacity, and features (competition football/soccer field, culinary arts emphasis, etc.)

CABOC prefers to have more detailed lists of what is presented to the voters.  However, they are expensive to prepare with any degree of accuracy, and, as a result, many districts prefer to provide the minimum possible level of detail.

The controlling factor is what bond counsel will determine is required by the law.

As to the second type of list, often referred to as the “Facilities Master Plan” (FMP), the actual action list of individual projects, by its nature, must be very detailed. The FMP should include an extensive picture project list, prioritization, and planning budgets and details of each project.  As individual projects move from planning to design to ready for contracting, “educational specifications,” such as the details of the design (this school will have a Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics [STEM] design; this one will emphasize performing and visual arts, this one will have a competition football stadium, this one won’t, etc.) and material criteria to be used should be added.  The District should also have a detailed general specifications document, such as classroom size, lighting, heating/ventilation/air conditioning, fire and emergency alarms, etc.  However, it is generally considered wise not to show the preliminary budget for specific projects going out to bid to ensure contractors will do their cost estimates and be more motivated to “sharpen their pencils” to submit competitive bids and proposals.

There are ways to consolidate projects for this form of the list – for example, have one contractor for heating/ventilation/air conditioning work at multiple schools – but, even if this is done, to have a degree of control over expenditures and contractors, there must be a detailed breakdown by site somewhere in the program/project control system.

The best practice is for there to be one consolidated system that allows authorized users to access data at many levels, from detail project managers who are responsible for the electrical system in a new school to the overall program totals, with different people given different degrees of access (and access is the ability to see information, not the ability to change or add data).  Any public member should be able to go down two or three levels. Still, only authorized insiders can access more detail –very few people will have total access to everything, and only specified personnel will have the authority to add, delete, or change data.

(See also FAQ 16., “What are the basic key elements that should be included in a school district facility master plan?”)