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New high school committee members discuss infrastructure estimates via e-mail

Tuesday, September 11, 2007 | 9:07 p.m. CDT; updated 5:06 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Here are e-mails from members of the committee appointed to review and recommend a site for Columbia’s third comprehensive public high school:

4:52 p.m. Monday

From: Glen Ehrhardt

To: Phyllis Chase

Thank you for making arrangements to promptly deliver the HSSSC (High School Site Selection Committee) packet to myself and other committee members.

Although I have only briefly had an opportunity to review the information provided by ESS (Engineering Surveys and Services) on the various sites, I note there is no info provided as to estimated costs for extending any necessary utility, transportation or other infrastructure improvements to any of these sites. In addition, there is no info as to the estimated costs to various political subdivisions such as the City, County, sewer district, etc. for extending any necessary improvements to any of these sites. Is there any info available on these potential costs as ultimately the taxpayers will end up paying for these items? It seems to me these are very relevant questions that the public has a right to receive full information on before a final site is selected and a concern which has been voiced to me by a number of individuals since the HSSSC was announced.

For reference I am also cc-ing this e-mail to other committee members and several other elected officials for whom I have e-mail addresses as I know at least several of these individuals have the same questions as set forth above.

If you have any additional questions, please let me know. Thank you in advance for your assistance and cooperation as to the requested information.

Regards,

Glen R. Ehrhardt

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8:01 a.m. Tuesday

From: Phyllis Chase

To: All committee members

Mr. Ehrhardt,

The information that was provided in your packet is the information we have at this time. Estimating the cost of various utility extensions would be just that, an estimate. If we were to use estimates in this equation we could be off by thousands, (or millions) at the completion of the project, therefore causing some of our publics to think we misled them. Therefore, in my opinion, it is best to use what we know for sure.

Again, this is my opinion. The committee will set its own parameters.

Phyllis Chase

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9:27 a.m. Tuesday

From: Glen R. Ehrhardt

To: All committee members and Phyllis Chase

Dr. Chase,

Thank you for the prompt response.

I have several follow-up questions.

1. Has anyone contacted representatives of the City, County, sewer district, water district, etc. to ask for their assistance in estimating the costs of providing these items for the various sites? It is my belief these political subdivisions would have the ability to provide a fairly accurate estimate of costs based on past experience and would support the public having this information available in order to make an informed decision before the final site is selected.

2. Has there been any discussion with representatives of other political subdivisions as to who will bear the costs of providing the above items to each site? If so, has an agreement been reached and what is it? If not, what are the plans to address the costs issue with the various political subdivisions or does the school district plan to bear each of these costs itself?

3. Have any inquiries been made as to whether or not easements will be necessary for extending or expanding any roads, sewers, utilities, etc., to each site? If so, what are the estimated costs and time delays to acquire the requisite easements? If not, how long would it take to acquire this information? I recall the numerous newspaper articles in the last year or so about how one property owner along Grindstone delayed a new large capacity electric line from being completed because of a disagreement with the city. Since several of the proposed sites appear to lack access to utilities, etc. this would certainly be something I believe the school board would want to know sooner as opposed to later.

4. In recent years the City Council has frequently required the use of traffic studies before approving various developments. Has the school district considered the possibility of doing studies for each site or for several sites if the number is reduced to 2 or 3 potential sites?

5. Is it possible for the site selection committee to meet on more than one occasion before a recommendation is made or do you intend for us to only meet on one date? Since being named to this committee I have had a number of individuals ask me about the work the committee will be doing and the number of meetings that will be held, etc. When I have responded we are only scheduled to meet one time for two hours each person has responded by stating they find it hard to believe a decision of this magnitude for the community can be made in one meeting. FYI, I have also had many individuals ask me the same questions about costs of infrastructure improvements, who will pay, etc. as set forth above.

Finally, with regard to your comment about not using estimates because of a concern some members of the public may believe the school district “misled them” if the estimates were off by “thousands (or millions) at the completion of the project” I strongly disagree. Instead, it is my belief that for this process to have credibility and the ultimate approval of the public and taxpayers it is important for us to have an open and transparent decision process with as much information as possible, including estimated costs, before the decision is made. If this means there is a delay in selecting a site I would submit to you that is better in the long run than rushing this decision and losing credibility with the public and taxpayers. As an example, I would refer you to the library district when the public approved a bond issue for “renovation” of the library building. When the public later found out the “renovation” was instead a “demolition” there was much public outcry and a substantial loss of credibility resulted to the library and library board which I believe continues to this date as evidenced by the overwhelming rejection by the public in the past year of the new facilities proposed by the library board. It is my concern that if the public perceives the selection of the final site for the new high school was not open, informed and based on the best costs estimates available that the taxpayers will likely voice their displeasure in the years to come by voting no when presented with new tax and bond issues.

I will look forward to your response.

Regards,

Glen R. Ehrhardt

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10:20 a.m. Tuesday

From: Ben Londeree

To: All committee members and Phyllis Chase

Hi Glen, et al,

I agree that infrastructure costs are important and in some cases will exceed the cost of the site and school. In fact, in a meeting with Dr. Chase several weeks ago, I made most of the arguments that you have made in your e-mails. Since I have some experience in estimating infrastructure costs, I was planning on doing these numbers for my own use and will be happy to share them with all of you if you want. For your comfort I will run the numbers by some experts before distributing them. If Dr. Chase decides to hire a consultant, I will gladly step back on this offer.

Ben Londeree

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10:54 a.m. Tuesday

From: Dave Griggs

To: All committee members and Phyllis Chase

Ben — I do think that would be a good idea — in fact I was going to ask some folks for some sort of “guestimate” number we could use for the cost of sewer, water, etc. on a per foot basis of the extensions necessary for a site. Even that would be a reasonable guestimate for us to use and I agree that is an important factor to consider in the evaluation process.

Thanks!

Dave Griggs

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11:37 a.m. Tuesday

From: Skip Elkin

To: All committee members and Phyllis Chase

Committee Members:

I concur. I do believe we can get estimates that are fairly close to actual costs based on historical data. I know the City of Columbia, Boone County, Boone County Regional Sewer District and all the other utilities providers perform cost estimates and planning almost on a daily basis. I am sure any of these organizations would be willing to offer their expertise and assistance to this matter. The only issue I can see at this point is that in order for each entity to give a cost estimate, they will need to know the specific requirements for the school (i.e. water/wastewater useage, fire flow requirements, estimated traffic counts,data/phone service, etc.etc.) These specifications are available.

Unless there are any objections, I can start inquiring with Boone County’s Road and Bridge Department and the Boone County Regional Sewer District regarding costs associated with site specific Roads and Sewers.

Because these entities work closely with the City of Columbia, there will need to be coordination with each other. However, I am certain that all this info will not be available by next week. Thoughts and/or comments???

Skip Elkin

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11:50 a.m. Tuesday

From: Glen R. Ehrhardt

To: All committee members and Phyllis Chase

Dr. Chase,

As this series of e-mails appears to have generated considerable interest, would you please forward it to all HSSSC members and also to all members of the Board for the Columbia Public Schools for their information and review. The initial e-mail I sent yesterday did not include all these individuals as I did not have their e-mail addresses.

As to Skip’s e-mail and offer to work on getting costs info and estimates I support his doing so. I believe this is the very information we as a committee and community need to make an informed decision. I also believe the involvement of all affected political subdivisions in providing information will lead to better cooperation and understanding by all interested parties, and most importantly, the public who will ultimately be served by the new high school.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Glen R. Ehrhardt


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Comments

Mike Martin September 12, 2007 | 10:49 a.m.

I can vouch for Ben Londeree's ability to come up with accurate numbers.

Ben discovered the inaccuracy reported in this news story from 2 years ago:

Consultant on road tax ‘screwed up’
Glitch dropped $3 million in revenue.
http://archive.columbiatribune.com/2004/...

The story would more accurately read: "The discrepancy showed up shortly after Tuesday night, when Watkins and other city staff reviewed the numbers presented to members of the mayor-appointed Transportation Finance Advisory Committee by Ben Londeree, who had discovered the massive mistake."

I sat on the committee with Ben, and it was quite a shock when he came back with his own, more accurate figures.

Glad to see Phyllis answered at least one email.

(Report Comment)
Jen Rachow September 12, 2007 | 11:07 a.m.

Don’t people get estimates before beginning a project. Isn’t that part of counting the cost? How could you decide to start building something if you have no idea how much is will cost, even if it is a ball park figure?

(Report Comment)
Doug Hunt September 14, 2007 | 7:21 p.m.

I worry about transportation costs. Land acquisition costs are easily calculated, site by site, and compared. Infrastructure costs,which for some sites may dwarf acquistion costs, are harder to calculate, but the committee includes people ready to take the problem on. Transportation costs (both those borne by CPS and those imposed on families who must sometimes drive to school) are an absolute BEAR to calculate. For some sites, however, transportation costs, accumulating over the entire lifetime of the school, may dwarf even infrastructure costs. If the price of gas rises as steeply as some experts predict, the next generation of Columbians could be shaking their heads and wondering why we were so foolishly focused at this point on the costs of land and infrastructure. IS THERE ANYONE OUT THERE WITH THE EXPERTISE TO HELP THE COMMITTEE FACTOR TRANSPORTATION COSTS INTO ITS CALCULATIONS?

(Report Comment)

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