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Broward County (Fla.) district falls behind on construction projects

Five years after an $800 million bond issue was approved, upgrades have been completed at only 8 of 233 schools.

Five years after the Broward County (Fla.) district secured $800 million from taxpayers to renovate aging schools, progress has been slow, with 97 percent of schools yet to receive long-promised repairs.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that work is complete at only eight of 233 schools, leaving students and teachers in schools with mold, leaky roofs and failing air conditioners.

Enrollment has dropped by 3,200 students in district-run schools in the past five years, and about 20 percent of parents in a survey last school year said poor facilities were a factor

District officials downplay problems with the bond projects. Spokeswoman Kathy Koch says “it is traditional for a project as large” as the district’s bond program to change its timeline after reviewing bids and design plans and securing permits.

Koch says the district has committed to “without exception, follow every protocol, to be excellent stewards of dollars our community has committed.” She said the district has been transparent, giving regular updates to School Board members and to a bond oversight committee.

Lori Alhadeff, who joined the school board last year, cited bond failures as one of several reasons she asked the board in March to fire Superintendent Robert Runcie. Her effort failed 6 to 3.

“Mr. Runcie failed the students and all of our communities in Broward County Public Schools by not being able to execute the projects in the bond,” she says.  

So far, eight of 233 school upgrades are complete; 65 are under construction.

Although administrators promised to give priority to the oldest and neediest schools, the first two schools completed were newer schools. Construction finished at the 18-year-old Manatee Bay Elementary in Weston in December and 24-year-old Indian Ridge Middle in Davie in May.

 Work also was recently completed on four other schools built in the 1990s or later: Eagle Ridge Elementary in Coral Springs, McNichol Middle in Hollywood, Silver Shores Elementary in Miramar and Palm Cove Elementary in Pembroke Pines. The district also has completed work at two older schools, Coconut Creek Elementary and Cypress Elementary in Pompano Beach, which were both built in the late 1960s.

District officials say the newer schools were easier to complete and therefore took less time. 

Some school principals have complained about disparate treatment during a recent review of facilities and maintenance conducted by the Council of Great City Schools.

“Timelines for capital projects were rarely adhered to" the review said, citing unnamed principals. “There was preferential treatment provided to schools in a particular ‘side’ of town, and ‘newer’ schools appeared to receive more attention than older schools,”

The district’s schedule says all school construction projects should be done by 2023, although few believe that will happen.

The work is now expected to cost nearly a half-billion dollars more than expected, and it’s not clear if the district will have the money. The district keeps dipping into reserves, and Runcie has acknowledged that it’s possible there won’t be enough to complete the work. He said schools that didn’t get completed would be put on a waiting list, completed as funding becomes available.

District officials have blamed the skyrocketing costs partly on a flawed review of district needs by a former consultant and former district employees, which they said underestimated both the needs and costs of each school project. A booming South Florida construction market also has led contractors to charge more, officials say.

Making the district’s financial woes worse is an estimated $3 billion in deferred maintenance.

The Council of Great City Schools concluded the “district’s aging infrastructures and building equipment could no longer wait; delaying would simply increase costs to the level of unsustainability.”

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