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“The cost of a new Duke Ellington School for the Arts has grown from $71 million to $178 million”

by Prince Of Petworth May 31, 2016 at 3:45 pm 25 Comments

Photo of 3500 R Street, NW by PoPville flickr user Jacques Arsenault

Office of the District of Columbia Auditor:

“The cost of a new Duke Ellington School for the Arts has grown from $71 million to $178 million without a comprehensive review by the D.C. Council on the location, other cost drivers, and all of the elements required for a performing arts high school, according to a new report by the D.C. Auditor.”

From ODCA’s executive summary (read the full report here):

“May 31, 2016

The Department of General Services Failed to Provide Information the DC Council Needed to Make Informed Decisions on the Scope and Cost of Modernizing the Duke Ellington School of the Arts
What ODCA Found:

 The Department of General Services (DGS) and The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) failed to provide timely information to policy makers so they could make informed decisions on the location and desired level of investment for a new performing arts high school.

 DCPS did not finalize Educational Specifications for Duke Ellington School of the Arts before DGS proposed the project for inclusion in the FY 2012 District’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) adopted by the Council.

 DGS based initial and subsequent cost estimates for Duke Ellington on significantly different projects that did not take into account the costs required for a performing arts school.

 DCPS, DGS, and the Executive Office of the Mayor were not transparent while considering alternate sites for Duke Ellington—sites that might have cost less and/or better served the needs of the student population.

 DGS and D.C. Partners for the Revitalization of Education Projects, LLC (DC PEP) did not timely and accurately assess the need for and the cost of underground parking and other elements of the school at the Georgetown location.

 DGS and DC PEP did not provide updated cost information, milestone data and implementation timeframes in the CIP. DC PEP did not provide updated project costs and budgets to DGS and were not held accountable.

 The Project has seen significant delays as DGS and DC PEP have missed many of the benchmark dates laid out in the CIP and supporting documents. DGS and DC PEP underestimated the amount of time the design phase would take, causing a delay in schedule. Delays in meeting deadlines has contributed to the construction phase’s guaranteed maximum price still not being agreed upon.

 DGS has failed to require DC PEP to comply with its contractual obligations to the District government with regard to the Duke Ellington project. DGS failed to require its program manager to provide project management services consistent with the contract.

 DGS (and its predecessor, OPEFM) made decisions early on in the School Modernization Program that deprived the District of the use of competition as a tool to control costs.

 From its inception, the School Modernization Program has relied on a single program management firm, DC PEP, rather than multiple program management firms.

 The decision by DGS (and its predecessor, OPEFM) to use Design-Build procurement without competition on cost may have contributed to higher costs in the Duke Ellington School of the Arts modernization.

 The existing DGS Procedure and Delivery Manual is unclear and contradictory and does not provide guidance that promotes accountability. It has also not been followed consistently on the Duke Ellington Project.”

  • Anonymous

    This is ridiculous. There are so many other things we should be spending that money on, including struggling schools that haven’t been modernized at all.
    How exactly does the Mayor and Council get away with this?

  • anon

    The irony here is that it’s not even going to end at $178 mill. It’s out of hand $100 mil ago and growing

  • John

    That’s a big escalation in price. Is this a school or a streetcar?

    • anon

      Duke Ellington is small (< 500) — they could probably fit classes in the excess capacity of the street cars

  • DCPS parent

    Better still, while one of DC’s highest performing high schools, the average SAT score last year was 1314. Of course that’s out of 2400 friends. So yes, one of DC’s selective and “best” high schools has SAT scores below the national average. So happy to have spent a small fortune on this gem.

    • anon

      It’s an ART school. Last I checked the SAT didn’t test that. And I don’t think artists and standardized testing always mix.

      • Philippe Lecheval

        It’s a public high school, so I’d imagine they teach more than art. At least, I hope to God they do!

  • Jeff

    At this point wouldn’t it be cheaper, more benificial to the students, and taxpayers to send all of the kids to a private school with that cash?

  • Sa

    Typical DC Government… And they say they want to gain statehood.. Such a worry!!

    • D

      Yes, because every state government has zero issues like this. And all those states also elect the best and brightest to Congress.

  • DCPS parent

    I wish people would be so outraged by DC tax payers paying for the baseball stadium, soccer stadium, Wizards practice facility, Marriott convention center hotel and the list goes on and on. DC has and is spending billions for these projects that are owned and operated by millionaires.

    Yes there are cost overruns with Duke Ellington but the initial estimate was intentionally low balled to get the project going. They assumed they could just demand more money once it got started.

    Kaya Henderson and DGS need to be called out here. In the end it is important to remember that there will be many thousands of students who will use this school in years to come and they should not in anyway be penalized by having the renovation railroaded due to the complete mismanagement of Henderson and DGS.

    • Jeff

      I assure you, real conservative, and libertarian citizens are against those public works for sports teams. Public funds should go towards the public, for real NEEDS, not just for the people who can afford teams and pay to go to those events.

  • NA

    We can spend all the money in the world providing children with state of the art facilities. But that won’t even begin to solve DC’s education problem if we don’t have total and complete parental engagement in their own child’s life.
    I’m a bleeding heart liberal, but man, I’ve witnessed lots of horrible parenting that simply didn’t happen in wealthier suburbs.

    • Philippe Lecheval

      Agreed. As someone with friends who have young children in DC, there are a lot of ugly truths that will need to be acknowledged before things ever start to improve.

  • Grady

    Hahaha…$107 million, or 150% over budget and they aren’t done yet. My hometown in Ohio, which admittedly is small enough to only have a 500 student elementary school and a combined 700 student combined middle school / high school, just finished last summer building two new schools to completely replace the existing two. Total cost to build both a new elementary and a new combined jr/sr highschool for a combined 1,200 students was $92 million over 2.5 years, and that included buying the land to build them on.

    The director for public works, the entity that the town council tasked to manage the project was fired because the project came in $7 million (or 8%) over budget, it was quite a scandal in my hometown because they had hit the borrowing limit and had no more ability to finance debt. They had to pay for it through a one time special tax assessment.

    Yet no one here will be fired, or censured. It will be the same group of people assigned to the next school in the pipeline.

    DC has spent $2 billion dollars renovating or rebuilding schools in the past 10 years, and yet they seem to make the same mistakes on each one. Not one has come in on budget, or even close.

    • Jeff

      Obviously people from your hometown must be ethical/responsible with public funds. That crap doesn’t fly here in DC.

    • My checkbook balances

      Thanks for the Real World example, Grady! DC government lives in fiscal Lalaland, with no accountability, treating taxpayers like morons with deep pockets, yet we continue to elect the same people time and again.
      And then everyone screams like banshees because Congress mightvwantbto oversee the budget.

  • Jemal

    You could have paid the full private freight and sent all 500 students at Ellington, to Sidwell Friends for 6 years with just the overage of this project and they aren’t even done yet. Fascinating !!

    • Petworth parent

      Once the building is renovated tens of thousands of students will be able to go to school here over the next couple of decades. You can’t just look at the current enrollment when deciding whether it would be cheaper to send everyone to Sidwell

      • Sean

        Except that’s probably not really the case. Look at even a new-ish school. Everything is broken. A/C is frequently out, pipes broken, bare wires, smart-boards broken, ethernet cabling and wifi broken.
        DC government is awful at… most things. They completely fail to maintain what they have, there’s no reason to believe that this $100,000,000 will equal a nice environment for more than a decade or so.

  • anon

    Yeah, it’s a mess. But the city is investing in schools like nobody’s business. Maybe we’re spending too much on schools, and homeless shelters, and affordable housing. But that’s a whole lot better than not spending enough. Given the choice I think we’re pretty lucky.

    • Jeff

      Spending with ZERO results is called a government boondoggle. Throwing money at problems ISN’T fixing the problem.

  • Papabear

    Remember this $100M the next time folks express outrage at parents asking for $5 million more in their local elementary school renovation budget. Meanwhile, the overrun caused by mismanagement on this one school could have funded your entire school’s renovation too. If the District is basically taking my tax dollars and lighting them on fire, I might as well make sure a few dollars get spent on something that directly benefits me.

  • louc

    Don’t forget the history of this. Michelle Rhee, whatever else you can say about her, wanted to move Ellington to Northeast, where the school could done more cheaply. But alumni, neighbors, staff and parents kicked up a fuss, insisting that it remain in Georgetown.

    • Jeff

      I agree, NE could use a nice new school but it’s also fine that it stays where it is. My concern, it was $100 million over budget. Realistically, they could of done this for $million. It’s a school, not the Taj Mahal.

      Does anyone know if this will be investigated? It sounds really fishy.


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