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Queens Chronicle

Mayor Announces Expansion Of Queens Vocational High School

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Posted: Thursday, June 12, 2003 12:00 am

The overcrowded Queens Vocational High School in Long Island City will be the first beneficiary of recent reforms to the way the city builds schools, the mayor announced after visiting the school’s auditorium last Monday.

The auditorium, which also serves as a cafeteria and a gym, was an appropriate example of the kind of crowding problem the Bloomberg administration tried to solve by merging the School Construction Authority with the Department of Education’s Division of School Facilities last October.

“By lowering the costs of construction and renovation through efficiency, we build more schools, create more seats and improve the education system in our city,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in an announcement of the project.

The proposed expansion to the school, scheduled to begin in July, was the first project designed under the streamlined SCA. As a result of cost-saving measures, the 86,400-square-foot annex will cost $315 per square foot, a 29 percent reduction as compared to the last seven schools built by the SCA.

SCA President William Goldstein said that the most important source of savings was changes to design standards for schools. “We didn’t sacrifice quality, but we made some significant changes,” he said.

He offered the example of the large boiler rooms that are traditionally built in the basements of schools, which are expensive because they required a separate room and extensive plumbing work. Under the new design rules, QVHS will have a cheaper roof-top heating and air conditioning system, distributed through forced hot air in ducts, which are easier to build.

The SCA also changed some of its business practices in response to complaints from contractors.

Instead of the 62-page pre-qualification forms that often scared away prospective bidders in the past, the SCA has whittled the process down to what Goldstein called “a fairly simple 22-page document.”

He said they also addressed some of the administrative problems that made the SCA notoriously hard to work with.

“This is what a contractor thinks about when they put in a bid, how difficult is it to work with the agency? Is it going to take six months to get an order approved, or three months to get paid?” he said, alluding to problems that had existed in the past.

The new SCA is committed to paying contractors within 15 days and approving orders quickly. It is also making sure to have all loose ends of design documents tied up before handing them over to contractors, ensuring that builders no longer have to add in contingency costs for unclear directions.

The SCA has also cut costs by reducing its staff by 40 percent, laying off about 300 people over the last few years. Goldstein said the job cuts were appropriate for an agency that used to award $2 billion worth of contracts per year, but is now awarding only $700 million. “We’ve both reorganized and streamlined,” he said.

As a result of these contractor-friendly measures, the city managed to woo back Turner Construction, a major construction company that stopped working with the city in the late 1990s out of frustration.

Turner won the contract for the QVHS expansion after a competitive bidding process, and Vice President Jim McKenna joined the mayor and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein at the meeting on Monday.

The addition to the 70-year-old vocational school will include new classrooms, shops, two elevators, a library, a gym, a kitchen, a cafeteria and an independent HVAC system. The four-story annex will include a cellar aligned with the rest of the building and add 650 new seats to the 1,100-student high school. The current building was originally designed for 700 students.

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