Letter to the editor: An open letter to the new Iowa City school board

Newly-elected Iowa City school board members Janet Godwin, J.P. Claussen, Ruthina Malone and Shawn Eyestone. — photos by Zak Neumann and Paul Brennan
By Heather Young, Iowa City

Dear New ICCSD School Board Member,

At your very first school board meeting, you voted to approve a laundry list of school construction expenses. One of them was $28,000 to pay for balancing and conditioning mechanical systems at the new Hoover Elementary school. You were told by the ICCSD facilities manager, Duane Van Hemert that the extra money was required because the work wasn’t written into the original construction contract that the district allowed the contractor to write, and that it was work required by law.

That is a very concerning situation that speaks to a systemic flaw in how the district currently does construction projects. Accepting construction contracts that contractors write themselves is like letting the fox guard the henhouse. Telling you that the district is responsible for legally required work that isn’t in the construction contract is a huge problem. If the work is legally required, it is the architect’s and/or contractor’s responsibility to know the law and to follow it. The fact crucial parts were missing from the contract they wrote is their problem, not the district’s, and they are financially responsible for their mistake.

Since you are now the stewards of $191 million for district construction projects, you are responsible for how that money is spent. It is also unrealistic to expect any of you to understand construction processes enough to be able to question the multiple construction invoices you are asked to authorize payment for at every board meeting.

I recommend now, before any more money is wasted on inadequately crafted design and construction contracts resulting in expensive change orders and cost overruns, that you hire an independent construction owner’s representative who will be tasked with overseeing district construction bidding, contracts and execution of construction projects. Although $191 million is a lot of money, it will not go far if at every board meeting you are approving hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra construction expenses without any meaningful understanding of why it is necessary.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 229.

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