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The South Florida Roundup

Report: Repairs Delayed For 97 Percent Of Broward Public Schools

Amy Beth Bennett
Sun Sentinel
Broward County School District Superintendent Robert Runcie and school board members listen to public comment during a March 2019 meeting.

Repairs to aging Broward schools have taken awhile, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

In 2014, Broward County voters approved a $800 million bond referendum for renovation work. The Sentinel found that five years later, work was completed at eight of 233 schools.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson spoke with Scott Travis, Sun Sentinel education reporter, and Steve Hillberg, an engineer who serves on the Broward Schools bond oversight committee.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: How are the decisions being made about where to start these projectts, let alone try to push toward finishing them?

SCOTT TRAVIS: They started out by putting all of the contracts out pretty much close together, and they would put them all out in design. And some architects would have more trouble than others getting the work done, meeting the codes, meeting the district standards. The ones that were the quickest were the ones that got to construction first. And there wasn't always a clear rhyme or reason. It wasn't always the year-one schools identified in the program that were considered the most needy that got started the first. It was usually the ones where the architects got the work done the fastest.

HUDSON: Steve, as a member of the bond oversight committee, what's the message to the community? How do you right this?

STEVE HILLBERG: That's a question I struggle with. I don't know that there is any other choice but to continue [to] improve where problems are identified. The district has responded in trying to put penalties on consultants that are late with their designs, or they've already had penalties for consultants who take too long to get to the building department if they have to keep going back to fix things. I don't know that there's an easy fix for this. I struggle with this all the time.

TRAVIS: I think one of the scariest things about this, though, is that there have been eight schools that have been completed. They've all been completed since December of last year. These were not the most challenging schools by any stretch of the imagination. If we continue that pace of eight schools per year, it's probably going to take between 25 and 30 years to complete all of these projects.

HUDSON: And Steve, you mentioned how the projects can be over budget. Are you going to outspend what the taxpayers have approved?

HILLBERG: That is a big concern. Risk management and the contingency funds, they're always being looked at by the staff. That's not my forte, but it is a concern that, of course, construction is expensive right now, especially in a booming market. With all these projects flooding out at a similar time, that's going to drive costs up.

TRAVIS: They're definitely going to overspend what they promise or what they intended initially. They've already said that publicly. Current estimates is about $500 million. The question is, Are they even going to have enough money to finish everything? Because they keep having to dip into reserves every year. And there can be a time where you just don't have enough money in your reserves anymore because you keep taking it out.

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Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.
Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.