A Monument to Waste

How the School Board turned a community park into a $25 million black hole.

But that's nothing compared to the construction-change orders the board authorized to Padula. That low bid didn't seem to mean much once the company won the job. So far, Padula has asked for and received extra fees that total more than $2 million. A large chunk of that came when Padula claimed that, due to "unforeseen construction costs," it would need $759,727.

School Board auditors saw this cost, found it couldn't be justified, and recommended that schools construction chief Michael Garretson not authorize it. After all, the design still hadn't even been finalized, and construction costs are lower now than they were in 2007. But Garretson, a bureaucrat who has a longstanding habit of favoring builders over taxpayers, simply forwarded the added cost to the School Board's agenda, and it was rubber-stamped on February 3.

Even as a small fortune was being tacked on to the cost of the school, its very existence still couldn't be justified. After years of furiously building and borrowing, the School Board has spent itself into dire financial straits. While building all those empty seats, it fell $2 billion in debt. Today, 60 percent of the drastically reduced capital budget is going to service the debt alone.

As the bleak situation came to light, several school building plans that weren't needed have been scrapped (don't ask why they were made in the first place). Elementary School C would have surely been one of the chucked projects were it not for Gottlieb's efforts. It was impossible to justify as an elementary school, so the plan was changed: It would instead be a prestigious Montessori school open to all K-8 students in Broward, regardless of geography.

It's still not needed in the area: The nearby middle schools all have empty seats as well.

"I persuaded my colleagues [on the board], and my colleagues support this," says Gottlieb. "The goal of the Elementary C changed to be an open-boundary programmatic theme school. It's not to relieve overcrowding, but it's going to be a curriculum-based school the community wanted. I'm confident everyone will love it and enjoy it. The community can enjoy it."

A back-slapping groundbreaking ceremony at the Lincoln Park site was held March 5, and construction has begun. Gott­lieb, Garretson, Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober, and others met to praise one another for bringing the school to the city.

I have little doubt Gottlieb is right that the people of Hollywood will generally like it (except those who have seen their park diminished). The problem is that it's $25 million wasted on a trophy school at a time when hundreds of teachers are being laid off, schools are strapped for basic supplies, and some leaky roofs aren't being fixed due to a terrible budget.

And the design of the school, in mid-building, will have to be changed yet again. It's made for elementary students, not eighth-graders. There will be more design changes and studies. It's not clear how much the adjustments will cost, but judging by the contractor's past record, it won't be cheap.

Put simply, the project exemplifies terrible planning — on several levels — and shortsighted leadership. This isn't about what's best for the School Board; it's about political favor.

And unfortunately, it's just a fraction of hundreds of millions of dollars this School Board has burned on its way to financial ruin.

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