By Tom Cavanagh, Principal, School Advisors, HMC Architects; and Magdy Abdalla, Facilities Director, Saugus Union School District

Historically, local General Obligation (G.O.) bond measures have been very successful—but they were often successful because it was expected that the State would also be contributing financially. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in recent years, requiring districts to fund their facility needs entirely with local tax measures. With this economic climate in mind, implementation plans have become valuable tools for districts to achieve their facilities and education goals. And, with the wave of local and state funding that’s predicted to hit the market in 2017, it is anticipated that construction costs will likely increase more than 20% over the next couple of years due to the lack of available labor to complete the volume of work. Looking ahead has never been more important for California school districts.

With the uncertainty of State facility funding support, the Saugus Union School District (SUSD) prepared an in-house needs plan to document district-wide facility improvements and educate their community on the need for a G.O. bond measure. With their needs plan in place, the District successfully passed Measure EE for $148 million in November of 2014. SUSD was not alone in their assessment that future state money was an uncertainty, because local measures
in 2014 totaled more than $2 billion. 

Now that SUSD had the funding necessary to move forward with their projects, it was critical that all their future projects enhanced student learning and supported the educational programs being offered within the District. SUSD collaborated with site administrators, teachers, parents, and community members to develop educational specifications to guide the design and direction of future projects. And from there, the needs plan costs were updated and a community outreach process was initiated to validate Measure EE projects and the newly created educational specifications.

Implementation Planning—Mapping the Details
As the old adage goes: if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Implementation plans provide the road map to success.

Having an implementation plan can save a district time and money, and build trust with their community. An implementation plan aligns financial resources, establishes project priorities, and communicates the timing of planned projects. Without one, disputes can arise about project timing, promised projects can be eliminated due to cost overruns, and community distrust and stakeholder frustration can take hold.

How do you start an implementation plan? In this case, SUSD engaged HMC Architects to guide them through the process of developing a comprehensive implementation plan. The District’s priorities were:

• Health and safety

• Infrastructure/underground utilities

• Curriculum enrichment

• Growth

• Renovation/modernization

There were other planning considerations, as well:

• What is the acceptable maximum number of site disruptions?

• What are the political realities?

• How quickly does work need to start?

• Does work need to be visible?

• Can we complete one entire school at a time?

Ultimately, SUSD determined that there was not enough money to complete one entire school at a time; agreed that two or three total disruptions was the acceptable maximum; determined that scope priorities needed to be balanced with visible and non-visible work; and that there was a need to get projects started quickly so the community could see progress. Projects also needed to be aligned with every-other-year planned bond sales, totaling $25.6 million, and escalation needed to be estimated for the next 10 years.

The resulting 10-year implementation plan was divided into three phases: health and safety improvements; infrastructure/underground utilities and site improvements (fields, play hardscape); and then all remaining work. Planned projects were staggered throughout the 10-year timeline, and higher priority was given to projects based on age, cost, and to sites with anticipated growth in the near future. The implementation plan successfully enables SUSD to incorporate anticipated rising costs, align identified financial resources and timing, and be transparent with its project plans—building stakeholder and community trust and support, accomplishing the goals established by District leadership and the governing board, and positioning SUSD to be ready for funding in 2017.