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February 12, 2005, 7:30 P.M.

Why Can't We Just Fix Up the Old Schools? Posted below are my notes from a forum that took place recently in Laconia about the need for the replacement of Laconia's middle and high school facilities. I spoke at the forum based on my involvement in the facilities planning process and my knowledge of the problems and limitations in the existing facilities. I have written on this topic for the Laconia Daily Sun and have posted those comments on the site in the past. These comments are posted here again because the discussion surrounding the school projects remains the principal topic in local politics at this time and because this issue will surely play a dominant role in local elections in November.

This is a topic with which I am intimately familiar and about which I am extremely passionate. I served this city for six years on the School Board and worked with others to oversee and develop the District's successful Capital Improvements Plan while implementing major budgetary changes. During that time I saw, first hand, dedication of the staff, students and the community to our schools. Because of my passion and experience regarding this topic, I could talk all night. Instead, and because Bob Champlin and Beth Arsenault still have enough good stuff on me to keep me in line, I have written down some of my thoughts so that I might stay focused and on track enough to allow us to hear from you and to answer your questions.

Prior to embarking on its program of renovation and replacement of existing school facilities, The school district joined with the city in accomplishing a comprehensive city wide analysis of capital structures, including school buildings. This study began in 1998 and was completed, with a final report being issued in January of 2000. The Study was conducted By Banwell Architects and RFS Engineers. These contractors were selected by a unanimous vote of the six member Joint City/School Facility Study Committee which consisted of 3 school board Members and 3 city officials. I served on that committee along with Chuck Tucker and Jim Hersey from the School Board and Phil Rowley and Frank Tilton from the city. The third city member was Roger, I believe his last name was Desjardins, but I am sure someone will correct me if I got that wrong.

The study was intended to serve as a baseline for the development of a capital improvements plan for the city and for the school district. As a result of the baseline information gained through the study, both the city and the district have made important strides toward the improvement of the city's capital structures. The school district has completely modernized and reconstructed all three of its elementary schools and those projects were completed on time and under budget. The city and the school district got the maximum amount of value out of those projects by paying a fair price for a great product.

Even before the elementary school projects were completed, the school district, with the facilities study as its baseline, convened committees to study the question of replacement or reconstruction of the Middle School and the High School. The base line question for any committee discussing this issue has been: can the structure be renovated in such a way as to effectively, efficiently and economically meet the district's needs into the future? There are several components to this question. The first is economic. Can the building be remodeled economically? The second relates to program, which Peter spoke so eloquently about. When we get done with this project, will the building meet the district's program needs now and into the future? Finally, how does the renovation, in an economic and program sense, compare with replacement?

In an architectural, engineering, construction sense we can do anything. The question becomes, what is the most efficient and effictive approach to addressing facility problems? Reconstruction of the existing structures has always been a consideration in the districts overall capital improvements plan. The determination to renovate the existing elementary schools was arrived at after analyzing whether or not the structures, if renovated, could meet the immediate and long term goals for the delivery of the curriculum. In the case of the elementary schools, it was determined that the structures could be renovated and expanded without compromise. It must be noted however that these structures, their systems and their finishes were completely upgraded. These are, for all intents and purposes, new schools.

The question was answered equally quickly with respect to the middle school. The structure, by virtue of what it is, has severe limitations. It is an early example of pre-stressed concrete plank construction with a non structural exterior curtain wall. The building is constructed with concrete planks supported on masonry bearing walls and closed in with and exterior aluminum skin and windows. There is only minimal lateral load resistance in the structure and it does not meet seismic requirements for modern structures. The gym area does not meet minimum wind load requirements. There have been numerous engineering retrofits in the building intended to overcome specific deficiencies, but the building still fails to meet even minimum standards for modern school construction. Any renovation of the structure would be required to meet current construction, air quality, life safety, construction and ADA requirements. The cost of retrofitting the existing structure could well exceed the cost of demolition and rebuilding,

There are also ongoing and persistent system failures in the building including but not limited to the deterioration of the plumbing system because it is encased in concrete. The failure of major components of the electrical system due to age and obsolescence and the complete failure of the HVAC system are also factors in the renovation vs. replacement analysis. The heating plant, upgraded in 1998 is one, and probably the only one, of the positives. That job was also accomplished on time and under budget.

The decision regarding the middle school was aided by the fact that it is of no historic or architectural significance. The unanimous decision of every committee looking at the issue has been to tear it down.

The high school is of a completely different type of construction. The 1928 structure is constructed on a steel and timber frame with a solid masonry façade. This structure is severely limiting in terms of renovation. Although it is massive and less unstable than the middle school, its mass literally weighs against seismic stability. Neither this structure nor the 1935 addition meet current seismic codes so the cost of meeting those concerns would be a factor in any attempted renovation.

These structures have met the end of their useful life despite complete renovation in the mid 1970’s. The systems are beyond salvage. The boilers are 36 years old are inefficient and are beyond the expected serviceable life. The heat distribution system is over 40 years old and the radiators, cabinet heaters and distribution systems are beyond their serviceable life. The ventilation system is deficient and ineffective and the electrical distributions system is dangerously undersized and in adequate to meet the demands of a modern school. There are still fuse panels in use as part of the system. The roof is failing and causing deterioration of the structure and it has been fixed, repaired and patched so often as to be more patchwork than quilt. These buildings are simply worn out and requiring an inordinate amount of time and effort to remain in operation.

Fire protection and life safety systems are inadequate and do not meet current codes in the high school buildings and the building fails to meet air quality, size, ADA and Life Safety codes.

The high school enjoys one category of significance that the Middle School does not: its historical and architectural significance. While not extraordinary, the older portion of the High School holds a great deal of sentimental attachment for some members of the community, which is why the original committee, while voting to replace the structure, also noted that its replacement should be evocative of the existing building. I add that there would be a lot to be said for incorporating some of the principal architectural elements of the old buildings in any new building. In the final analysis, the renovation of the existing high school structures into any sort of school, middle or high, would be cost prohibitive and would result in programmatic compromises. The cost of renovation and the resulting structure which would still suffer severe programmatic limitations would not meet the value-for- dollars-spent standard.

February 7, 2005, 7:30 P.M.

Handwringers: Sunni Moslems boycotted the recent elections in large numbers. The Bush administration has, nonetheless, declared the process a success. The failure to engage the Sunni minority in the process and the strong Shiite representation in the government are but two factors that suggest continued instability and bloodshed in Iraq.

The US Government continues to insist that there is no threat that the transitional government in Iraq will devolve into a Shiite dominated theocracy. Vice President Cheney recently told Fox News that the US government has a great deal of confidence in where Iraq is headed after the election. He also said “I don’t think, at this stage, that there’s anything like justification for hand-wringing or concern on the part of Americans that somehow they’re going to produce a result we won’t like.” Apparently this is based, at least in part, on his observation that “Iraqi’s have watched the Iranians operate a religious theocracy that has been a dismal failure, from the standpoint of rights of individuals.”

The problem here is that the Iraqis he is talking about are the Shiite majority and there leaders have been working closely with Iran for support and refuge from the oppressive former regime for many years. At a time when Shiites in the south of Iraq were being slaughtered for supporting the US in the gulf war and for staging anti-government uprisings in reliance on promised US support, they looked across the border to Iran when the promised support never materialized. The average Shiite in southern Iraq probably couldn’t care less about human rights in Iran, given what they have been through. There are strong religious ties between the Shiite leaders in Iraq and the government of Iran (remember Mohamed Chalabi, for example?), and I doubt that ordinary Iraqi citizens know anything about individual rights in Iran. What they do know is that there is a strong religious and cultural bond between the peoples of both regions.

As a self confessed hand-wringer on this issue, my concern is not that the elections in Iraq will produce a government that "we won’t like." My concern is that we may have bungled this situation so badly as to have created a political situation that is far less stable, more dangerous and generally far worse than the one we professed to resolve by overthrowing Saddam. What’s more, having put an election process and system of transitional law in place, we are hard pressed to withdraw our support if the result is something we simply “don’t like.” It really isn’t our place to like or dislike the result and therein lies the real problem with Cheney’s statement, it presumes the creation of a government in our image and likeness when the more realistic result, without Sunni participation, is a Shiite dominated theocracy.

Of course the Kurds and the Sunni’s will gain certain advantages based on their minority status under the proposed plan for establishing a permanent government, but that presumes that everyone participates in the process and the everyone plays by the US inspired rules. To suggest that the Shiites are simply going to go along in this process because of their observations of how badly their brethren have things, in an individual rights sort of way, is just not reality. Senior Shiite clerics are currently debating the issue of the influence of Koranic law in the new constitution to be written by the new national assembly. Surely they will draw lessons from their observations of the Iranian system. Some of those lessons may result in a tempering of the influence of the more extreme elements of the religious parties, but Islamic law is fundamental and inseparable from the religion itself. Shiite clerics, no matter how disillusioned with the operation of the Iranian government, can be expected to forego the teachings of their faith in order to adopt democratic ideals that are not part of their religious system.

As for Iran, the President, in his State of the Union address, challenged the Iranian people to rise up against their ruling clerics. He said, "As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you." In the same Fox News interview, Cheney was pressed on what, exactly, the United States would do to stand with the Iranian people, Mr. Cheney said he and Mr. Bush "wanted to encourage the efforts that we've seen previously in Iran to promote freedom and democracy." The statement, he said, was intended "to encourage the reformers, if you will, inside Iran to work to build a true democracy, one that doesn't vest enormous power, as this one does, in the unelected mullahs, who, we believe, are a threat to peace and stability in the region." Of course this was a Fox interview so no further details were sought or offered. Why should the Shiites in Iran believe American promises of support, given the history of U.S. involvement in Iran and the failure to deliver on promises of support to Shiites persecuted in southern Iraq?

Donald Rumsfeld, speaking the NBC News program Meet the Press on Sunday night said “The Shia in Iraq are Iraqis. They're not Iranians. And the idea that they're going to end up with a government like Iran, with a handful of mullahs controlling much of the country, I think, is unlikely." Cheney to explains that the US was relying on the representations of Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to support its position that Iraqi clerics have no interest in the day to day operations of government. Cheney said. "If you're looking for guidance in terms of what the relationship is likely to be between the religious faith, Islam, and the secular side of the house, the government, you really need to look at the top cleric, Sistani, He also has been very clear, from the very beginning, that he did not want to play a direct role and doesn't believe clerics should play a direct role in the day-to-day operations of government." If this is our governments basis for believing that a theocracy is unlikely to result in Iraq, I’m going to need more hand cream.


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