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Letter to the Editor: Detailed Design Documents are Needed for Greenacres

classroomdesignThis is a letter to Scarsdale10583.com from Robert McFarlane, a Greenacres resident and engineer who attended the Greenacres Neighborhood Association meeting on October 19. The meeting brought together members of the school administration, the school board, the architects and construction managers with the community to review plans to renovate Greenacres Elementary School. Here are some thoughts from Mr. McFarlane who posed a question at the meeting about the term, "Value Engineering."

The question I raised at the meeting of 10/19 stems from decades of experience with what happens when project scopes and budgets don't match. The project breadth and depth laid out by the Architect at the information meeting was impressive, and very clearly presented. I would personally have no problem supporting a Bond Issue based on what was shown and described at that meeting.

However, the Construction Manager ("CM" in the vernacular of the trade) said two things in his presentation that, taken together, raise my concern. First is that they will do new budget estimates "when they have the design drawings". Based on the project schedule presented, those won't actually be available until late 2018 if memory serves correct. Second was the large notation on a CM slide that said "Value Engineering", usually just called "VE".

The term "Value Engineering" originally meant that designers reviewed their work to find ways that, in retrospect, could provide the same result, or sometimes better, with less complexity and at lower cost. Virtually all designs were reviewed in this manner before going out, and often Bidders and Contractors submitted suggestions as well. Unfortunately, in this age of "fast, cheap and low bid", the term now causes angina with most designers. It has essentially become a euphemism for Cost Cutting. "Find ways to cut the cost by X percent, by either reducing materials quality, cutting detailing, eliminating useful details that can be left out, or deferring amenities to a future time."

Perhaps the first round of "VE" can be useful in trimming fat, although most public projects today have been reviewed and trimmed significantly before they even go to bid. Normally, as a result of these reviews, a number of things that are wanted, and should probably be included, end up listed in the Bid as "Add Alternates" in the hope they can be bought if the bids come in low enough. Most often, all or most end up gone. If those turn out to be the things that would make this project truly worthwhile, instead of just "Bare Bones", people will wonder what happened, and many will be quite upset.

I have actually worked on public projects that went through as many as seven rounds of what the designers end up calling "Valueless Engineering" as the project was being built. When that happens, the designers lose pride in their work, and the Clients lose the result they expected.

I truly hope the cost estimates being prepared are based on sufficiently complete and detailed design documents that the resulting Bond Issue will include a realistic figure for this important project. However, no real evidence of that was shown at the meeting, and members of the Building Committee raised questions indicating that the project scope presented in that meeting exceeded what they understood would actually be done. If there really is a significant disconnect, property owners could find themselves voting on a important Bond Issue with the expectation that this critical project will include much more than will actually be possible. In a project of this kind, it's quite plausible that "existing Conditions" will be uncovered during construction that eat up contingencies, requiring additional rounds of "Valueless Engineering" in order to make further cuts even as work is going on. I sincerely hope not, but experience tells me to be cautious.

In short, I think it is very important, prior to asking for a taxpayer vote, that the actual Bid Scope be clearly defined for the public, including delineation of what may be listed as "Add Alternates", and that the CM clearly confirm that the budget estimates have been based on that scope.

Robert E. McFarlane
1247 Post Road
Scarsdale

Comments   

+5 #11 GA Parent 2017-10-28 15:12
Please go to Heathcote and Edgewood. There is major construction going on at both schools and right outside where classrooms are located. Do you think there is no learning going on at these schools? Do you hear teachers and parents complaining about noise and disruption? No, they are happy to have their schools improved and are dealing with the temporary inconvenience. GA is going to end up with nothing because of all of this nonsense people are bringing up.

Quoting Greenacres parent:
This is very very scary. I am now hearing that the architect has been saying things that are not actually happening. I went to the PTA meeting and thought that there were going to be 8 modu :D lar classrooms that would be used as swing space. The architect said they were necessary as contingency. Now I hear that they don’t want to use them. It seems that my children’s safety is constantly being compromised for cost savings! What happens when they end up behind schedule. Will they start working during drop off and pick up? Will they start doing interior work with kids in the building which they promised not to do? Will they let the noise and dust level go higher than what they planned.

At a minimum we can all assume that there will be zero learning occurring at Greenacres during this project.
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-3 #10 To GA Dad 2017-10-27 22:06
I won’t speak for Joanne, but I think she is pointing out some items that were not correctly stated at the GA Forum last week.

If items were misstated, can the Greenacres Neighborhood Association inform those who attended of any corrections? It’s been over a week now, and I just want to know the accurate facts as to what’s happening. Wasn’t that the point of the forum?

Does the Greenacres Neighborhood Association have a contact person who can sort this out promptly?
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+6 #9 GA Dad 2017-10-27 16:03
Joanne,

What is it with the lead water pipes? Filters eliminate any issues with them. Why would you spend extra money that could go towards some other part of the project to open up even more walls and replace working pipes. No one would do that. Should everyone in GA that lives in an old house replace all of their pipes? You have some legitimate gripes (i.e. bathrooms) but time to move on from the lead and sanitary pipes.

Quoting Joanne Wallenstein:
Here are a few other points that were misstated at the meeting:

The "toilet rooms" in the classrooms will be renovated but not expanded. They are really tiny and they will not be ADA compliant.

The lead water pipes will not be replaced. We will continue to need filters.

Its not clear what will be done to the library.

Only a portion of the roof will be replaced. The windows will not be replaced.
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+6 #8 Frank Quesnay 2017-10-27 11:26
The only hope for getting any thoughtful analysis out of the District on the Greenacres project is to vote down the bond. Then, and only then, will a genuine discussion and review process get underway.
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+7 #7 Resident 2017-10-26 11:16
I am happy to see how people are highlighting the flaws in how this district is doing its planning. It sounds like there needs to be more upfront plannimg rather than planning after a successful vote. Hopefully the district will now take the time needed to actually do the due diligence that they need to do. It was one thing when the 2014 bond projects came in 15% over budget since that bond was small. If that happens with a $67 mm bond we are going to have a huge problem. It sounds like this can easily be prevented by doing more work up front.
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+5 #6 Joanne Wallenstein 2017-10-26 00:14
Here are a few other points that were misstated at the meeting:

The "toilet rooms" in the classrooms will be renovated but not expanded. They are really tiny and they will not be ADA compliant.

The lead water pipes will not be replaced. We will continue to need filters.

Its not clear what will be done to the library.

Only a portion of the roof will be replaced. The windows will not be replaced.
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-34 #5 Winters Coming 2017-10-25 20:59
I hope the Village budgeted enough to accommodate all of the Snowflakes that live in Greenacres.
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+1 #4 Question 2017-10-25 20:02
Is there anything else that BBS “misspoke about at the Greenacres Neighborhood Association event?

Will the GNA correct these things?
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+1 #3 FYI 2017-10-25 19:56
They will be working during drop off an pickup. BBS “misspoke” at the most recent forum.

Quoting Greenacres parent:
This is very very scary. I am now hearing that the architect has been saying things that are not actually happening. I went to the PTA meeting and thought that there were going to be 8 modular classrooms that would be used as swing space. The architect said they were necessary as contingency. Now I hear that they don’t want to use them. It seems that my children’s safety is constantly being compromised for cost savings! What happens when they end up behind schedule. Will they start working during drop off and pick up? Will they start doing interior work with kids in the building which they promised not to do? Will they let the noise and dust level go higher than what they planned.

At a minimum we can all assume that there will be zero learning occurring at Greenacres during this project.
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+3 #2 Scarsdale Resident 2017-10-25 16:55
Given the negative experience the District had with bids for the 2014 bond, I am worried that they haven't paid sufficient attention to this. What little discussion there has been about the bidding process and timing hasn't been very reassuring. I'd like to hear more about what sort of "Value Engineering" Park East is contemplating. Hopefully they're not looking to make safety measures optional.
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