By Madelynn Coldiron
To understand how the state’s new school facilities evaluation system would operate, consider this:
The old system outlined a building’s condition in a worksheet of three or four pages.
The new system? About 20 pages.
The Kentucky Department of Education is preparing to roll out the Kentucky Facilities Inventory and Classification System, a key component in local school facilities planning and funding. In 2010, the General Assembly directed the department in Senate Bill 132 to hire an independent evaluator to “standardize the process for evaluating the overall quality and condition” of the state’s schools.
The state education department contracted with Parsons Commercial Technology Group, Inc. and its partner, MGT of America, Inc. to develop the system. It incorporates Kentucky laws, regulations and standards into their formula, which includes national standards on building elements and construction costs.
“The evaluation process is consistent and also the criteria that they use to develop the facility condition index is based on a nationally recognized series of systems and costs so it is being uniformly applied to facilities,” said Greg Dunbar, manager of the department’s District Facilities Branch. “To me, that’s probably the best thing, because it’s very objective and consistent.”
The most noticeable change will be the detailed checklist of items that will end up scoring each school on a 1 to 100 scale. The assessment comprises physical condition, which makes up 75 percent of the score; educational suitability, which counts for 20 percent; and technology infrastructure, which makes up the balance.
Educational suitability was noted on the old 1-5 categorization system, but was not part of the scoring. It includes items such as learning environment, classroom size, natural lighting, storage and location. MGT, Inc. worked with KDE on developing the educational suitability element. Technology readiness focuses on infrastructure capacity. It was developed in conjunction with the education department’s Office of Knowledge, Information, and Data Services.
In each of the three categories, schools will receive an index and score that balance the cost of condition needs with current replacement value. For physical condition, that means when a building exceeds a certain score, it raises a red flag to consider major renovation or demolition.
“It should help to make (district leaders) aware that a system may be working real well, but you’re on borrowed time if it’s past its useful life,” KDE staff architect Tim Lucas said.
While there will be cost figures in the assessments, Dunbar cautions districts about their use.
“This is a tool that projects out a prorated cost based on the actual age of a system,” he said. “And we can’t emphasize strongly enough that the costs that are going to come out of this should be looked at and used very cautiously.”
Not so fast
There is a major hitch in implementing the system, however: the $2 million contract stretched only as far as devising the system, providing KDE with the software for continued use and evaluating only about one-third of the state’s schools.
After piloting in three districts, the on-site evaluations were done earlier this year by Parsons and MGT teams who were oriented to Kentucky standards.
They encompassed schools previously classified as categories 3 and 4, with a sprinkling of newly designated category 5s. To avoid concurrent use of new and old facilities evaluations, the old system was put on hold, though district facility planning has continued.
KDE is expected to request funding from the legislature to assess the remaining schools using the new system.
“We’re hopeful that the results of this will be illuminating enough to the General Assembly that they would propose to move forward with it,” Lucas said.
If the remainder of the assessments are not funded, KDE Project Manager Paige Patterson-Grant said one option might be to continue using the new software system for assessing facilities but having the two companies train other external people to carry out the work. Lucas said that could be architects, who have been conducting those reviews under the old system.
The department is looking at formal re-evaluations every four to six years, perhaps in conjunction with district facility planning, Patterson-Grant said.
The 480-some evaluated schools have been given their raw data, but the scores will not be announced until the end of November.
However, Patterson-Grant said the report to the legislature will not be accompanied by any recommendations from KDE.
“We’re not assessing if a new school should be built,” she said. “We’re assessing the current condition of the building. Those types of determinations would have to come from the General Assembly and the other policy makers.”
Lucas emphasizes that for school districts, “This isn’t telling you how to do and what to do. It’s simply providing you with another tool that, once you get ready to start addressing these issues, you’ve got some information and you can sit down and talk to your architect and sally forth.”
The impact the new formula will have on facilities planning is a question mark.
“At this point, we’re not sure,” Lucas said.
He said the new system will spur the department into revisiting state regulations on facilities planning and design – with, he hopes, the help of Parsons and MGT.
The assessment reports will be available online for school leaders. The department envisions that these records will be updated any time local conditions change. The exhaustive data will shed more light on a building’s rating than the current 1-5 categorization.
“There is so much information there that if you really want to mine the information you can look at each item and you can see where the score really came from,” Lucas said.