Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Courthouse complex and Newton High School

Courthouse Road Construction 009, originally uploaded by dmoisan.

The Salem News has editorialized on the courthouse controversy:

"Despite all the public meetings and input from interested parties, DCAM has made no effort to balance the Court's needs with those of the City."
That's according to three members of the Federal Street Neighborhood Association unhappy with the design for the new J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center being built adjacent to the court complex in downtown Salem. They admit in their recent letter to the Division of Capital Asset Management that the state agency and its architect have allowed extensive opportunity for public comment on those plans. The problem: DCAM and architect Goody Clancy don't see things their way.

I don't like agreeing with the News, but they make a further interesting point. They compare the courthouse controversy to the storm brewing in Newton over the cost overruns to the high school, now estimated at $150 million, the most expensive school construction in the state.

Seth Mnookin wrote an excellent article in the Boston Globe Magazine this past Sunday, "What Are They Doing To My High School?" on the construction controversy, which, as the News notes, has more than a few parallels with Salem's courthouse complex.

Reading Mnookin, I can't help but think Newton has a lot of people who want to tell the city how to build its high school. There are a lot of white-collar people in Newton--and in Salem--who have no compunction about going outside their experience in making demands, er. "suggestions" to city officials:

Each new delay brought with it attendant price increases, which meant the very people complaining the loudest about the expense were contributing to its seemingly inexorable growth. Several Newton architects submitted new plans, convinced that they'd found a solution that would be cheaper, easier, and faster. Early in the process, Mark Sangiolo, a self-employed local architect, ridiculed the notion of needing "'school architects' under contract with the city" and disputed the notion that it wouldn't be safe to keep students at the existing Newton North while the building was undergoing renovations. After a study of his own, he concluded that the HVAC system was basically fine and the inability to wire the building could be solved by putting Apple AirPort Extremes every 100 feet.

Hold that thought.

I'm in IT.

Retrofitting a building like a high school for wireless networking is a job. A big one. The questions spill out of my brain: What will the AirPorts connect to? Are AirPorts meant to be connected together in bulk? (Answer: "No".) What IT network already exists? How do you connect to the AirPorts? What about access control? Does Sangiolo know that Apple's products are not designed for that use? Why 100 feet? Did he do an RF survey? (If he'd mentioned Cisco or Meru or Alcatel, all enterprise wireless vendors, I might take him more seriously.)

Sangiolo's not an IT person, and I don't think he's credible on his other points. Even our own, annoying, Ken Sawicki has a "courthouse plan" that he proposed when he filed suit against the state.

Mnookin continues:

"We have a number of very talented local architects in the city who submitted their own designs and said they could do it for $100 million," says an alderman who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the project. "But we can't just have people running up to City Hall and putting plans in front of us. This is no disrespect to them - we have a very talented, very educated, very knowledgeable population in the city of Newton - but we're working with professionals, and because other people don't like it doesn't mean it's not right."

You cannot design a high school--or a courthouse--by committee. Or by the loudest shouters at a public hearing.

And one last point from a Newton official:

"Look, I don't necessarily like how the whole thing has been handled," says School Committee member Marc Laredo. "The mayor should have dealt with this years ago. But it's ridiculous. There are still people trying to stop this thing. The train has left the station. The groundbreaking has already happened.
The school is being built. We need to move on."

I'm tired of the whole debate. I wish for a representative like Joyce Spilotis or Lori Erlich who would take advantage of this situation and have the complex moved to Danvers or Lynn. At least when I come back as a juror (and nothing more, one hopes) I will enter a functional building, not one crippled by overruns and delays. Even if I have to take a 20 minute train trip to get there.

The empty lot that was the east ramp to North St. can become the "Samuel McIntyre Vacant Lot", brought to you by the Federal Street Neighborhood Association.

1 comment:

mark said...


Next time you want to help smear someone's good name why dont you check your facts first.

The city of Newton requested ideas from architects after Turner construction had halted the project because they could not solve the problem of how to renovate the school. I presented to a task force at the cities request. After my presentation Turner Construction was basically presenting my scheme and saying it could now be renovated. The task force voted in favor of a renovation and addition. Why the mayor took it upon himself to fly in the face of the recommendation and build a new school still has people perplexed. In any event a 200 Million dollar high school is indefensible.

For you information nothing any citizen did slowed the process down one bit. In fact it was being built fast track until a few months ago.

My minor suggestion regarding the network was to investigate using apples wireless system. That was a very minor piece to a renovation presentation that had approximately 200 hours of research and design into it.

Seth Mnookin's article was a payback piece as his parents and the mayor of Newton go way back to 1988 in city politics. They served in the same administration together. They are regular contributers to his campaign. Thats a fact.

I guess it is fun piling on to destroy peoples reputations. Good luck with your courthouse.

Mark Sangiolo, Architect
Newton, MA