Are you just plain stumped about the bad decisions made by the Great Falls Public Schools?
Have you ever wondered why so many bad decisions have been made by the Great Falls Public School District? The school district administration seems to step in it every chance they get. These people are supposedly highly educated, and yet they seem devoid of even a modicum of common sense.
We have seen the district cut down 80+ year old trees at Great Falls High School and the now demolished Lowell School to make room for a large portion of the $98 million the taxpayers of Great Falls so generously gave them to resolve, in many cases, their failure to maintain our schools.
Prior to the bond levy election, the school district reminded us repeatedly that the district hadn’t built a new school, or a substantial addition, in more than fifty years. What that tells us pretty clearly is that none of the current administrators have the necessary expertise to embark upon the largest construction projects in Great Falls school district history.
If you are stumped, a short history lesson may provide some clues to the district’s seemingly bad judgements, which include the following:
- Removal of trees, grass and shrubs at the northeast corner of the historic original Great Falls High School campus against the advice of John Boughton the State Historic Preservation Office. “Many times, when a project occurs in a National Register-listed district, the project’s proponent often doesn’t recognize that impacts to the district go beyond changes or modifications to the major standing building(s) but also affect other resources of the district, such as the landscape”.
- The school district’s purchase of the Campfire property, without specifically identifying it in the bond levy ballot, which in my opinion was illegal, in order to demolish the historic structure and build a small, expensive (estimated $22,000 per space) parking lot for 9 cars if the City development standards are followed.
- Failure to include a fire-sprinkler system in the historic Great Falls High School resulting in higher costs to install additional hydrants and utilities, fire lanes and other fire suppression features.
- In my opinion, dictating an architectural design that insults the north and south GFHS campuses.
- Building the new Giant Springs Elementary School on a site (2.5A) that by all standards is half the minimum size recommended for compact elementary schools (5.0A), and is an affront to the existing neighborhood.
- Removing the City boulevard on 20th Street for parking buses after City staff advised against it.
A chronology of events leading to a bite too big to swallow:
- In 2009, then school superintendent Cheryl Crawley formed a committee of district employees and local design and engineering professionals to inventory the needs and wants of our less than stellar school infrastructure. Committee members were not invited at large, but hand-picked. A little crony music if you please?
- In 2010,The Facilities Committee reported that our schools had issues, many of which involved existing mechanical and electrical systems. The district then entered into to an $8M non-bid performance engineering contract through a State Board of Investments loan to be paid back out of the energy savings the project achieved. Were the retrofit projects successful? As a district employee critically affirmed, the $8M contract took advantage of “the low hanging fruit”.
- The Facilities Committee also recommended that Great Falls High School not be considered in the mix since it required much more work.
- In 2012, the district commissioned a $150K Great Falls High School Master Plan by a local architectural firm. A citizen Task Force was appointed to provide stakeholder input, and in conclusion arrived at a construction estimate of nearly $70M. At this point, the administration cautioned that Bond voters would probably not approve such a large amount just for GFHS, so they advised throwing a bone to electors vested in CMR and the elementary schools. That brought the price for taxpayers to $98M. Did the district reason, that with a higher cost than GFHS alone, the more ingredients in the stew, the more people out of self interest would vote in favor of the bond levy? And the only losers in the district’s plan would be the property tax payers.
- In 2016, and prior to the 2016 bond election, the district administrators realized they needed help to develop a winning strategy for bond passage, so they secured a Billings firm who had been successful with a similar large school bond project in Missoula. By their own admission, the Billings firm is a construction company that “specializes in general contracting services including commercial general construction, interior and exterior renovations, building additions and construction management”. None of the firm’s 5 principals are licensed engineers, architects, or professional planners, but it would seem that they are acting as the ring master for the district’s projects.
So yes, some of us are a little stumped, because this doesn’t seem like the most efficient or honest way to conduct public business and serve the taxpaying public.