Tuesday, June 17, 2008

$36.8 Million

That would be the amount necessary to adequately and safely repair Schenley High School, according to speakers at a news conference yesterday evening. The figure was alluded to by B-PEP chairman Tim Stevens, made explicit by researcher Kathy Fine, and supported by civil engineer Nick Lardis, all of the Save Schenley movement.

In addition, the cost of preparing other buildings to accommodate Schenley students came under intense scrutiny. The $11 million originally quoted to repair Reizenstein, for example, was "wildly underestimated" by the School District administration, say activists, raising the usual questions about the rest of the District's preliminary numbers.

The notion of a full-blown asbestos crisis was flatly rejected by activists. Airborne asbestos particle levels, which are measured every two weeks, have on every occasion measured lower than the legal limits to be adhered to even after asbestos remediation procedures; moreover, damage to plaster is not so widespread as reported, being limited to a few areas that were rapidly "patched" at some point years ago.

The group demanded that 1) the School Board vote no on permanently closing Schenley High School, that 2) the School District move to immediately create and present a workable, cohesive, comprehensive plan for high school reform, and that 3) a committee comprised of both citizens and School Board members be convened for the purposes of exploring all possible methods and revenue streams for preserving Schenley -- including the possibility of a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.

That last "offhand" notion seemed to take on a bit more gravitas when Vivian Loftness of CMU's School of Architecture stepped forward to make her own presentation, centering around the superior long-term cost efficiency of investing in the Schenley building, as opposed to lesser buildings or new construction.


  1. Nice coverage.

    Understand, that the students in present-day Schenley don't only just go to Reizenstein. Reizenstein is just a short-term move, even under Roosevelt's plan. The costs there, are TEMPORARY benefit of more than $10-million. The media reported long-term costs to exceed $50-million.

    Frick keeps the 9th graders: cost is $14-million. Work done while kids are in school. The middle school used to have 3 computer labs. Now it will have one. Net loss of two PC labs. Freshmen don't get to be in a high school setting. Bad for all.

    Milliones costs more than $10-million too. Really expect that to hit more like $20-million. Engineer work and blueprints were already done to make that site the home of the new Rodgers CAPA middle school.

    Moving Robotics to Peabody is expensive. And, Peabody should not be home to that program. It will need to move again. Why not put robotics in with Science and Tech and move it to Westinghouse, if at all. Keep it at Schenley. More millions.

    ESL program was at Schenley. Must move. These are international kids and the kids at Schenley generally speak multiple languages.

    The Arts kids for Ballet are at Schenley too -- not CAPA, BTW.

    The changes to the other buildings might hit $100-million. All of that can be avoided if Schenley stays open.

    Furthermore, I feel that a 'gentle investment' into Schenley of less than $10-million could sustain that school for the next 20 years.

  2. Mr. Comet...why would you trust a bunch of advocates numbers more than the School District that has actually done the work and analysis necessary to determine the amount needed to save Schenley, which is more obviously more than $70 million. The school is closing, case closed. Let's stop giving people false hope and stop the silly talk about wasting more taxpayer $$ to fix a school the shrinking School District clearly does not need....

  3. I was, in this post, silent on whose numbers to trust ... but now that you mention it, the District's numbers do have a history of changing upon being examined, especially when one actually pares away from their renovation plans stuff like repairing the ancient pipe organ. How did the Reizenstein estimates start off at $10 M, and then somehow skyrocket above $40?

    The activists' numbers were based mostly off of the administration's own reports, they say, which were only released piecemeal as this battle unfolded. Your statement that only the School District could possibly have "actually done the work" strikes me as elitist, and the suggestion that we should simply "trust" them as naive.

    Do we trust that Roosevelt really had someone on staff tasked with seeking out federal funding for green renovations, as he represented to Board Member Arnet? Based on what seems to be his fervent wish to move this piece of the high school reform puzzle forward, a plan that has never been publicly vetted and never been voted upon, I would say not.

  4. What is great, as this has unfolded, is that the numbers that the citizen experts used were taken right off of the desk of the superintendent. We read the whole report -- all the pages -- all the footnotes. We did our homework. The same reports that were given to the Mark Roosevelt are used as the basis for our dollar values.

  5. I give you two words---CHANGE ORDERS.

  6. As an outside, but interested, observer, I've been following this debate since the initial proposal to close Schenley was first announced a while ago. My comments are not intended to convey any opinion on the program changes that have taken place under Superintendent Roosevelt. I was born, raised and educated in the city of Pittsburgh, my family still lives there and my nephews attend Pittsburgh Public Schools (not Schenley) and I will eventually move back to the city (been there, done the suburbs, not doing it again).

    I currently live in an urban school district facing issues very similar to PPS. Declining enrollment, excessive building capacity, deferred maintenance costs in the millions, large achievement gap, conversion back to k-8s and new programs similar to accelerated learning academies. With the high school issues, the district has been working with community groups, education stakeholder, city officials concerning the high school issue for more than than five years without any concrete solutions and is continuing with yet another community discussion process.

    When is there an endpoint? Six months? A year? Five years? Does "exploring all possible methods and revenue streams for preserving Schenley" mean that all, every single possible solution, regardless of viability, be explored? What I've seen in these types of situations is that ultimately, no one leaves happy, a lot of mean and ugly takes place and you are not anywhere near close to coming up with a workable solution. Regardless of what occurs, some segment of the city/district is going to be unhappy. It is frustrating to me, however, when people call for change, someone proposes or implements change, the results aren't "immediate" and then folks bitch that the "change" was flawed and wrong in the first place.

    Urban school districts across the country are facing very similar problems. Cities and school districts did not get to this point overnight so I'm not sure why folks feel the need to criticize or dismiss simply because the results are not coming quickly enough.

    As for analyzing fiscal costs and reviewing numbers, I've been doing that for years as part of my career and I will be the first to tell you that you can give 10 people the same set of numbers and pretty much get 10 different analyses on what those numbers mean, especially when those reviewing have a vested interest in the results. That is why, in my opinion, the statement that there are lies, damn lies and statistics holds for me.

    Thanks. I've been reading this blog, as well as The Burgh Report and Mark Rauterkus' blog for well over a year now and appreciate the insight that the bloggers and commenters post. While I don't always agree, I do enjoy the discourse.

  7. Your post says that the other urban district has been working with community groups. Nuff said there. We don't have that in Pgh Public Schools with Mark Roosevelt at present.

    For two years, there was a high school reform task force. That body of work was chucked from the window. Roosevelt had one meeting and changed everything --> CLOSE SCHENLEY. Then the reform group no longer gathered.

    Same too, we heard last night, with other coordination groups. The merging of Rodgers / CAPA HS, whatever. They are a joke in terms of meeting with the community. D. Lopez screws up repeatedly.

    However, when 22 schools closed a few years ago -- they were 85% okay. People are okay with change. Not bad change.

    As to not everyone leaving happy -- well -- okay. Frankly, the whole blasted idea of Milliones (former middle school) set to re-open as a boutique high school, in The Hill District, is because Roosevelt soiled the right-sizing plans so poorly for The Hill. He had to give them something back. Roosevelt gave them a crumb -- a new school -- but they really liked Schenley.

  8. BTW, thanks for reading.

    An expanding mind never returns to the its original size.

    It is important to go out of -- or at least, to the edge of -- our 'comfort zones.'

  9. Yes, good comments. I don't want to leave the impression that I am only skeptical of the administration's numbers, and not at all of the activists'. Why can't we be skeptical of everything at the same time?

    Case in point -- to counteract the $36.8 million today, the administration has been emphasizing "we've paid for five studies, and we got the same answer every time". That begs the question, were you asking the same questions each time? Were we arranging these studies in a way that someone truly interested in preserving the school would?

    Katie, when you write:
    "It is frustrating to me, however, when people call for change, someone proposes or implements change, the results aren't "immediate" and then folks bitch that the "change" was flawed and wrong in the first place."

    The confounding thing is that although the need to change our schools and improve results has been sounded, and is frequently used as a backdrop against which to consider this Schenley move -- that is never how Schenley's fate is ultiamtely considered. Instead we get changing rationales -- an asbestos outbreak, crumbling systems, poor academic performance. Sadly, I am reminded very much of the changing rationales for war in Iraq -- you want to do it to keep oil flowing and to protect American economic interests? Fine. Argue it that way. Don't tell me about weapons of mass destruction and freedom being on the march.

    And sadly -- and I mean this sadly -- reform as it relates to how to better educate these children never gets discussed. The background of "The Plan" seems somehow to exist outside of the political process, and that breeds suspicion -- suspicion that somebody decided the best thing to do for children is to seperate the wheat from the chaffe at and early age.

    And interesting concept, if there was any data to support that.

  10. Thanks. It will be interesting to me to see how this ends (or doesn't). I'll keep reading (and occasionally commenting).

    [As for the "working with community groups" efforts that the district undertakes here, I would characterize it more along the lines of enhanced lip service when it comes to recommendations that come out of the process. More often then not, the district goes back to its original proposal -- it just costs five times more than it did originally. There has been some progress, though, in pulling work groups together prior to the recommendations to the board, although in those cases, the district employees tend to be heavy in steering towards a desired result.

  11. I agree with Rauterkus. The majority of this board, and this superintedent, have barely paid lip service to the testimony, evidence and analysis of the public at large. They have public hearings to abide by the letter of the law, but are in total violation of the spirit of the law. The people who are testifying are not quacks with their own hidden agendas, they are community leaders who are saying closing Schenley is the wrong choice for Pittsburgh.

  12. 414 Grant Street: watching your comments over time I've decided you're someone very close to the City Controller and now close to Mr. Excellence for All and his minions. Doug Anderson and/or Cate Reed????

  13. YO "414 Grant Street" ~ You are either an IDIOT and/or another corrupt politician in OUR City, HIDING behind an anonymous tag.

    SAVE SCHENLEY used the School District's OWN DOCUMENTS to prove that the TOTAL asbestos costs were LESS THAN $3.5M and the TOTAL refurb costs were UNDER $38M.

    Unless you are dyslexic, like most of our school board members, I suggest you read http://newpittsburghcourieronline.com/articlelive/articles/40957/1/Engineers-say-Schenley-is-safe-claim-there-is-no-asbestos-problem-in-building/Page1.html

    If you need someone with a college degree to read the big words for you, just let us know.

  14. I would be interested in hearing from students who are NOT part of the IB or gifted program (and their parents) have to say regarding Schenley. We seem to only be hearing from a small pool of activists who have kids in elite programs.

  15. You must know more about those activists personally than me. I was under the impression that B-PEP is currently representing the sentiments of those students who would be fed into Milliones and to ... what was the other school? Peabody?