To the list of flaws in the Board policy, we can add the use a flawed methodology for determining the costs associated with their existing non-instructional facilities.
By Mary Louise Pigott
Published February 15, 2012
One of the chief rationales the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) has given for initiating what it has dubbed the 'Education Centre Project' is the high cost of maintaining and upgrading its aging non-instructional buildings.
According to a 2007 staff report, replete with loaded language about 'old' buildings (average age 50 years) and imminent 'building failure', the maintenance costs of these buildings was determined using ReCapp (Renewal Capital Asset Planning Process), a Ministry-mandated facilities management software program.
The Ministry mandated its use province-wide in 2005 to ensure consistency in estimated capital renewal costs across all boards.
Unfortunately, as the communities affected by the Dalewood Area Review have discovered, ReCapp is a blunt instrument that bases its building component lifecycle estimates on age alone, with no allowance for quality of materials or construction.
ReCapp is intended to trigger inspections as building components reach the end of their ReCapp-determined lifecycles.
When it's used to calculate the maintenance and operating costs of existing facilities without the necessary accompanying on-the-ground studies, as it was in the case of the recent Dalewood ARC, it grossly overinflates the costs of keeping older buildings.
In the case of the Dalewood ARC, staff's estimate of the costs of keeping all three schools in our area open were based on ReCapp data.
It included such absurd items as the wholesale replacement of the facade of George R. Allan School (designed by Wm. Palmer Witton, who also designed the James Street Armoury, and one of the finest examples of Collegiate Gothic in the province), terrazzo and hardwood flooring, millwork, ceramics, and glazed wall tiles, and the wholesale replacement of interior staircases.
Even when this list was reduced to critical items, the replacement of the exterior walls and interior stair cases of George R. Allan and Prince Philip Schools remained on the list.
The members of the Dalewood ARC learned that the Ministry now recognizes the limitations of ReCapp and will be implementing a new system over the next few years.
I have seen no indication in the documentation that appears on the board's website, that the ReCapp-based assessments of the board's non-instructional buildings were qualified by on-the-ground assessments of the buildings' actual conditions.
Even if they were, it's not difficult to imagine that dubious items such as the wholesale replacement of historical facades would have remained on the list, as was the case in the Dalewood ARC.
Certainly the tone of the above cited 2007 staff report is not encouraging.
A possible exception may be the Education Centre, which we are told went through an 'independent facility assessment' in addition to the ReCapp assessment. If this assessment has been made public, I am not aware of it.
ReCapp does not cover upgrading costs, but the maintenance and operating costs of the Board's existing non-instructional buildings formed the bulk of staff's estimates of the cost of keeping these buildings.
The use of a flawed methodology for determining those costs calls one of the main rationales for initiating the 'Education Centre Project' into question.
The flaws in the process that led to the choice of the Crestwood side seem to be piling up on an almost daily basis.
We can add to this list the use of a flawed methodology for determining the costs associated with their existing non-instructional facilities.
The limitations of ReCapp may not have been fully appreciated at the time of the initial assessments in 2007, but they are certainly understood now.
It would be a betrayal of the public trust to continue to use these skewed numbers to justify their current course of action at the same time as the Ministry is working to correct its methodology.
The Board is about to take a step that will have an enormous social, economic, and environmental impact on this city for generations to come. It is encumbent upon them to have an unassailable rationale for this course of action.
Why not release the assessment of the Education Centre, and why not wait a little longer until they have the tools to produce a more trustworthy business case?