by Jack Minor –
An employee with an architectural firm that was recently given a contract by the Greeley/Evans school board to conduct a study on school renovations also sits on the state board that will approve the grant for the project.
At a Dec. 12 meeting, over the objections of board member Brett Reese, the board of education awarded a $137,000 contract to SlaterPaull Architects to conduct a facility master plan of all schools in the Greeley/Evans school district. The plan was intended to recommend expenditures for improvements to area schools.
The reason stated was that a master plan was last done 15 years ago. Among the possibilities discussed at the meeting was either renovating or replacing John Evans Middle School and Greeley West High School.
As part of the contract, SlaterPaull would help the district in the preparation of a Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant. The BEST grant is a program that provides partial funding to local communities for school construction and renovation.
Under BEST guidelines, if approved, the district would need to provide 28% of the total cost for any approved project.
After the awarding of the contract, SlaterPaull’s issued a report saying the two schools in district in most need of upgrade are John Evans and Greeley West. These were the two school singled out for improvement prior to the issuance of the contract.
At an all-day work session, Adele Wilson, an architect with SlaterPaull reviewed ways the district could chose to upgrade or renovate the schools and how to qualify for the BEST grant.
Options presented included remodeling John Evans and Greeley West at a cost of $45 – $47 million or building an entirely new $68-$75 million campus at the corner of 37th Street and 65th Avenue in Evans.
The new campus would consist of a middle school and either a high school or a K-8 school.
District Superintendent Ranelle Lang has said she favors the more expensive approach since that is where the growth is going.
Wilson’s presentation regarding the improvements to the district is noteworthy as she is on the board that will ultimately approve the BEST grant.
The Public School Capital Construction Assistance Board (CCAB) was created to be a division within the Colorado Department of Education in 2008.
The CCAB consists of nine appointed members who include two school facilities planners or managers and one public school board member, school superintendent, architect, engineer, construction manager, school technology expert and public school finance expert.
Wilson is on the board as the architecture member, which has caused some to wonder about a possible conflict of interest regarding the district awarding a $137,000 contract to a firm with an employee on the board that will approve the grant. Any project approved would require the services of an architectural firm.
Reese said this is an example of the type of corruption and wasteful spending he has seen throughout his term on the board.
“SlaterPaull has a vested interest in seeing the price tag for the project go as high as possible, and they have an employee who is on the board that approves the grant come and make the sales pitch to the district,” Reese said. “If this contract is approved will this board insist that SlaterPaull not be allowed to bid on the project, I doubt it.”
Roger Fiedler, communications director for the District was asked if the district had existing funds to cover the cost of the proposed renovations or if they would need to seek increased funding through such things as a bond issue or a tax increase.
“That depends on the scope of the renovations/remodel/construction that we apply for, which is still undecided at this point. A small project might be able to be covered by existing district funds, whereas a large project might require going to voters to ask for a bond or mill levy override,” Fiedler said.
In recent elections voters have consistently voted against higher tax increases for the district over concerns the funds were not being spent wisely.
Reese has echoed these concerns in several board meetings. During the meeting where the contract was awarded to SlaterPaull, Reese encouraged fellow members to think outside the box asking whether the district needed “Taj Mahal” schools in favor of schools that were practical and affordable.
“Why couldn’t we simply put up a quality steel building with brick or stone siding instead? Reese asked.”