School district capital projects generally begin with a preconceived concept and a financial limit. However, projects often are completed at costs that exceed 20 to 30 percent of planned costs. To stay within the parameters of a budget, school districts must follow a set process.
The first step is to examine how a typical capital project is initiated. Although there are no national standards for school capital projects, they all have similarities, including:
-The board directs the superintendent to implement a capital project action plan. -The superintendent meets with other administrators and develops an action plan. -The district writes a request for proposal (RFP) and solicits bids from interested architectural firms. The RFPs are reviewed and a recommendation for an architect is made. -Upon approval, the district's legal counsel develops a contract with the architectural firm.
Then, the panic stage begins. The superintendent and administrators examine the state education department's planning document and often find it incomprehensible. When it is determined that help is needed, most administrators turn to the architect for assistance.
The architect then maneuvers the district through various stages of the planning process. Upon approval by the Department of Education, construction contracts are bid and awarded.
Disadvantages of the process
Most architects are willing to do a feasibility study and develop the project's educational specifications. However, during these stages, as the architect meets with various groups and organizations, the cost begins to escalate.
The process of gaining input tends to coalesce people around special interests that may be at odds with budgetary goals. Districts need to keep in mind that the architect is paid according to a fixed percentage of the total project cost, which means there is no incentive to keep the project cost within the limits set. In the process of satiating various groups, the scope of the project is slowly expanded. When given a choice of good, better or best, people generally choose best even though good often will meet the requirements. This is where most districts lose the battle to maintain budgetary restraint.