Betting on growth

Imagine, if you can, 20,000 employees, 191,000 students and 205 facilities. Add to that enrollment that is projected to reach 204,700 students in 1998. Take a few more moments and think about the amount of time that must go into planning for a district of this size--the management skills required to make sure new schools are ready for opening day and older schools meet standards. Then, maybe you can understand why Dale Scheideman, director of planning and engineering services for Clark County School District, Las Vegas, was chosen as this year's winner of American School & University's Management Effectiveness Award.

"We opened 57 schools between 1989 and 1993," says Scheideman. Since then, the district--the 10th largest in the United States--passed a $605 million bond fund in 1994; resulting in 24 new schools. Also, in 1996, a $643 million bond was passed, providing 19 new schools, additions to 95 schools and upgrades to 130 schools.

While Scheideman is in charge of planning for the district, he doesn't take all the credit for the successful implementation of the multitude of construction projects. "It takes a lot of people," he says. There are 1,100 employees in the transportation department with 880 buses; 900 custodians and grounds-care employees; and 290 maintenance people. In Scheideman's department, a staff of 45 report directly to him for rehabilitation planning, new school planning and equipment management.

"We have good, solid people," says Scheideman. "We have a diverse group of people. Two of my leaders, one in charge of new schools and one in charge of rehabilitation, are licensed teachers who have shifted over and become facility people."

Behind the scenes To the students and parents, how the district manages its facilities is a moot point, as long as it is done and done correctly.

The district uses architects to do the designs, some of which are on staff and that help with programming and education specifications; some that focus on the design of rehabilitation projects.

"For example, we had three [architectural] firms develop an elementary-school prototype that we have site-adapted 20 times. We have a single prototype for our new middle schools. A prototypical high school has served the district well, and that was developed by one architect."

To Scheideman, planning makes the difference. "You have to put a good plan in place up front, and execute it like you say you would," he says. "Our biggest challenge is really getting schools built so students have a seat. So, you don't have the luxury of taking three years. You have to plan it, design it and get it done.

"It is a big challenge...meeting timelines. If you look at what we have to do, it is overwhelming. We will have spent, at one point, $2 billion in less than 10 years. That is a lot of schools."

In fact, the district only had 131 schools less than 10 years ago. Plus, they are in the process of rehabilitating about 114 schools in less than four years. Rehabilitation is a bigger challenge than a new facility, notes Scheideman.

"You have to deal with existing circumstances, and they are not all alike at every school," he says. "Even though the schools were built alike, over the years they have changed. Programs are different; parental support is different. One particular side of town may need something different than another part of the county.

"Part of our job is to develop educational specifications for all schools. We have to develop the requirements for specific schools and rehabilitation of older schools to provide that equity across the district. You can imagine if we have 142 elementary schools, that if we change a program, because curriculum drives a change, it has to be implemented across the district. Then, you have to maintain those educational specifications. We, as the facilitator, gather the principals, teachers, specialists in a specific area to determine what they want and what they need to accommodate the chan ge."

Technology, here we come "The biggest challenge over the years has come from the introduction of technology," says Scheideman.

In fact, the main rehabilitation projects are technology- driven. Clark County School District has a master plan and it stipulates how many computers must be in each school, as well as how many computer labs. While these requirements are part of the design of new schools, older facilities must be brought up to standard.

"The growth has been extremely rapid as far as technology is concerned," he says. "Schools that we were completing in 1993 were at the very beginning of the technology explosion. They had computers, but they were stand-alone with limited capability and software. Now, we have full networks and media-retrieval systems. Just the evolution of that impacts the facilities and how those schools are operated."

Clark County has a network that will provide access to every room of every school. Each high school has five computer labs, each middle school has three to four, and each elementary school has at least one.

"Even that is changing. Computers are going into every classroom; that is a function of how technology is supporting curriculum," he says. "We have to provide that flexibility." The district's 1994 bond funds were disbursed so that 60 percent went to new schools and 40 percent went to bringing older facilities up to speed. The 1996 bond will help complete networks and replace computers in 67 schools.

Meeting the need Everybody would have to admit, even Dale Scheideman, that Las Vegas is not your typical city. Consequently, it has some unique problems requiring special solutions.

"We have 219 schools that are functioning out of 205 facilities," he says. "We have several programs, high schools and middle schools that are non-traditional to provide students the opportunity to obtain a diploma. We have a school in a juvenile detention hall and the state prison. They have their own principals and teachers."

Another way Clark County meets the needs of its population is by providing "sunset schools"--high schools that are open in the evening hours.

"We have a lot of high-school students who are working during the day," he says. "This gives them the opportunity to complete high school. It does create a facility problem in that these two facilities are used all the time. But, on the educational side, it is a great opportunity for students to graduate."

The district has three schools for challenged students. "Some of the students that would have been in these schools five years ago are now mainstreamed. We have to accommodate that," says Scheideman. Part of that accommodation may mean students cannot attend their neighborhood school. For example, the district has some schools that are better equipped for the hearing impaired and visually impaired. Some students who have trouble in school may fit better into a different location, he notes.

Another concern is making space available for 4-year-olds who are coming to school to get a head start and be better prepared for kindergarten. "That takes space and staff," he says.

"The district has had to use portable buildings," says Scheideman. "We have over 600. We use them for areas where we have unanticipated enrollments and overcrowded schools."

Keeping up with all of these facilities is a lot of work. The district created its own automated work-order request system for everything from maintenance to rehabilitation work.

"It will tell you the status of any work order in the system," says Scheideman. Schools enter their own work-order requests, and the system routes the request to the appropriate department.

Staying focused With so many items to keep track of--new buildings, buildings undergoing renovation, curriculum changes that force changes in facilities--Scheideman must keep his department on track.

"We are focused on education at all times. That is really our job. We facilitate not only on the outside of our division, but also inside the division to keep us focused on education and the students' needs," he says. "We have to make sure the same programs are offered to all students.

"We have not had to increase taxes to do that," he says. "The rapid growth of Las Vegas valley has allowed more revenue without increasing taxes. All of our capital funds are property-generated funds. We receive no capital funds from the state."

It all adds up to careful planning and managing of facilities. "By the year 2000, we are going to need 230 schools," says Scheideman. "I think the good news is that the district has been able to maintain its educational standards while this growing is going on."

Constructing a school can cause enough headaches without the added strain of a very tight schedule. Mojave High School opened for the 1997-98 school year, and construction began just 600 days prior.

"We bid it with those days in there," says Scheideman. "The contractor was obligated to meet that schedule. That was probably our biggest challenge with this school--staying on schedule."

The district also opened one elementary school at the beginning of the school year and five more since then. While all of the facilities have been prototypes, the problems arise when fitting each school to its site.

"The challenge is on-site and off-site conditions," says Scheideman. For example, Mojave High School was miles away from available water, sewer and power. In addition, it was situated on a severely sloping site. Many of the areas where Clark County is building elementary schools are not fully developed. "That means the infrastructure is not completed. Roads aren't finished. We have to put down walking paths to the schools because areas are not fully developed."

Once the school is finished and the last construction worker has left, the district has to furnish the facility. "Usually, we don't have a lot of time between completing construction and putting students in schools," he says. "Although the furniture can be mass purchased, each school usually has different-colored furniture customized to that school."

Another big concern when constructing new schools is technology. All of the wiring placed in schools must be certified before anything can be installed. "The installer has an instrument that tests the wire," he says. "It checks to make sure the wire hasn't been pulled or stretched and that it can carry the information that is needed. It is the same way with fiber--it has to be terminated correctly.

"You have to account for the wiring, which is a new set of things that previously we haven't been used to dealing with, although we are becoming used to it. You can't just hook the system up; it's not that easy now."

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