- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Dates, digits and dollar signs are arguably the three most important items regarding building and/or modernizing public school facilities. Suffice it to say, elected and appointed D.C. officials blew it on all three fronts.

Fortunately, D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson on Tuesday used a bullhorn to blast what all is wrong with the city’s ongoing facilities projects by focusing on one school, Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

As a result of inefficient and management, the Ellington project costs are now more than $178 million. Compare that to the original $71 million estimate.

A magnet school, Ellington was established in 1974 and is located in Georgetown in the former Western High School at 35th and R streets NW. Its alumni include mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, comedian Dave Chappelle and actor Lamman Rucker. Western began serving as a schoolhouse in 1897, and its alumni include “The Yearling” author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, feminist Gloria Steinem and publisher and philanthropist Austin Kiplinger.

Western/Ellington, like many aging school houses, needs modernizing, and it should have been before many other D.C. schools, including Anacostia High, which was built in 1935, and Ballou High, which opened in the 1960s and now has new digs. And there’s Dunbar High, which was razed in the 1970s and modernized, and built anew again in 2014.

What’s wrong with the Ellington project? According to Mrs. Patterson’s scathing report:
“The Department of General Services (DGS) and The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) failed to provide timely information to policy makers so they could make informed decisions on the location and desired level of investment for a new performing arts high school.
“DCPS did not finalize Educational Specifications for Duke Ellington School of the Arts before DGS proposed the project for inclusion in the FY 2012 District’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) adopted by the Council.
“DGS based initial and subsequent cost estimates for Duke Ellington on significantly different projects that did not take into account the costs required for a performing arts school.
“DCPS, DGS, and the Executive Office of the Mayor were not transparent while considering alternate sites for Duke Ellington — sites that might have cost less and/or better served the needs of the student population.
“DGS and D.C. Partners for the Revitalization of Education Projects, LLC (DC PEP) did not timely and accurately assess the need for and the cost of underground parking and other elements of the school at the Georgetown location.
“DGS and DC PEP did not provide updated cost information, milestone data and implementation timeframes in the CIP. DC PEP did not provide updated project costs and budgets to DGS and were not held
accountable.
“The Project has seen significant delays as DGS and DC PEP have missed many of the benchmark dates laid out in the CIP and supporting documents. DGS and DC PEP underestimated the amount of time the design phase would take, causing a delay in schedule. Delays in meeting deadlines has contributed to the construction phase’s guaranteed maximum price still not being agreed upon.
“DGS has failed to require DC PEP to comply with its contractual obligations to the District government with regard to the Duke Ellington
project. DGS failed to require its program manager to provide project management services consistent with the contract.
“DGS (and its predecessor, OPEFM) made decisions early on in the School Modernization Program that deprived the District of the use of
competition as a tool to control costs.
“From its inception, the School Modernization Program has relied on a single program management firm, DC PEP, rather than multiple program management firms.
“The decision by DGS (and its predecessor, OPEFM) to use Design-Build procurement without competition on cost may have contributed to higher costs in the Duke Ellington School of the Arts modernization.
“The existing DGS Procedure and Delivery Manual is unclear and contradictory and does not provide guidance that promotes
accountability. It has also not been followed consistently on the Duke Ellington Project.”

At a hearing last summer on school modernization projects, a high-level DGS appointed said he couldn’t comment on another school-construction audit because he had only been at the agency for three months. (Some would say three months too long.)

These practices are scandalous — as are the mayors and the D.C. Council members who failed to check, double check and recheck the dates, digits and dollar signs.

A hearty thank you is due Team Patterson (and a tip of the locks).

As things stand, Ellington isn’t the only school in need of renovation.

Perhaps the Office of the D.C. Attorney General should check into Ellington’s runaway train (no pun intended).

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