by Lincoln Blog guest contributor A. Naiman:
From an SBC announcement:
On January 9, 2013, the School Committee and School Building Committee hosted a workshop to examine the community generated guiding principles and evaluation criteria that guided the SBC in developing the Lincoln School building project voted on at the November 3, 2012 special Town Meeting. The purpose was to refine and reaffirm a set of guiding principles/evaluation criteria for the continued work of the SBC. About 60 people attended, including 7 school administrators, 4 School Committee members, and 7 other School Building Committee members. Amendments/new ideas generated by the group are in red. The SBC will decide on a final consolidated set of criteria at its 1/22/13 meeting.
Video of the meeting is posted here and the amended principles and draft criteria, raw and regrouped, here. The former is worth a view by all who missed the meeting; the latter by anyone who pays taxes, has interest in the schools, or gives mind to Town process and culture.
It was in many respects a very interesting meeting: collegial, relatively quiet, well-planned and –run, and apparently attended entirely by people who, whatever their partisan stance just a few weeks ago, seek now to find broad common ground and a way forward that unambiguously serves the greatest range of townsfolk. That is not a trivial event, nor an easy proposition.
The calm, somewhat introspective mood of the meeting, and the unusual amount of listening and thinking in evidence, may have reflected a mutual appreciation by people on both sides (and no side) for the staggering amount of effort, vision and care invested in the schools project. It seems that most have sheathed whatever hatchets they were carrying, and want now to extract from all that designing and calculating something even better, that can get broad Town support; and if possible, MSBA funding to boot.
There are clearly some learnings being absorbed and processed as well. SBA has posted and circulated a list of “Reasons for SBC Failed Vote.” From a certain perspective, though, it was no failure at all: rather, a success for the democratic process and expression of opinion. But it now seems likely that we could instead be breaking sparkling-cider bottles on new foundations (well, maybe not quite) for a project aimed more fortunately from the start, with support from more and doubt by fewer. And there are certainly some new learnings, at least new to this generation of planners. E.g., there is a pragmatic limit to how much we love our schools. That even a staggering gift of cash may not sway all to common purpose if they either don’t understand that purpose, or find in it other than their own highest visions. That pockets are not bottomless, and even a 50-for-the-price-of-30 offer may not overcome (by two-thirds majority) fear and countervailing desires. That some bits of ground are more sacred than others. (Well, we knew that already, but the definitive map hasn’t yet been published.) That exemption from certain formal processes (site plan review) doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be invoked anyway. That even the mere appearance of hustling a vote produces a strong counter-reaction. That excessive clarity and elegance in draft or tentative plans can disenfranchise more tentative participants. –And that too clearly articulating a dream makes it very difficult to let go of even a part of it without feeling loss, disappointment and anger. That we know we can’t have it all now, and aren’t sure what we want most (including financial security). That people have deep and abiding faith, but in different things: the perfectability of a 15% plan, the achievability of an incremental repair strategy, that we can design for 50 years, that change will always be greater than we can imaging so we can’t. And that when people on any side are too certain of their rightness and righteousness, ceasing to listen does not stop others from talking, thinking, planning.
But we’re past that now. There is a continuing series of meetings, well-focused and on a tight timetable. To the 98.6% who haven’t attended any of these meetings, it’s time to show up or shut up; speak now or forever etc. This is one of the more open processes that this writer has seen in a few Lincoln decades; while Bud Reed’s gym might not seat the whole town, and the facilitators (and cookie-providers) might not welcome thousands, a few more committed participants could be helpful. Consensus is not quickly achieved among masses of the sane. But the way this is being run, ideas are to a degree being factored and recombined into better and better fit and form; even a majority vote soon to come might be far more congenial than we have so far seen. And while those 60 or so might be the most capable in town, your understanding and opinions might be even more valuable.
So, back to those values and criteria…
Guiding values are now listed as
1. Ensure a flexible educational environment that fosters the core values of: collaboration, differentiation, purposeful and authentic learning, inclusion, and integration of technology.
2. A building that is safe, sustainable, energy-efficient, connected to its environment, and integrated into the site; designed as a “50 year solution”
3. A building that fosters community use, including multigenerational use and interaction.
4. Develop a financially responsible solution that is balanced with additional Town needs.
5. A building and site that reflect the values embodied in the Town’s mission statement.
This is a nice list, balancing a central focus with community implications; aspects might fruitfully be applied to almost any Town-wide (or lesser) strategic plan. And so it should be when a project of this magnitude, cost and impact is contemplated. As suggested previously, the long-term importance of this concrete building project may be much smaller than the pervasive influence of the manner in which we achieve it.
The discussion led to refinement of earlier criteria, and enough new ones to merit breaking out a whole category for finance. And even with the many additions and adjustments, it seems that the starting point was broadly valid. The “final” wordings and tallied votes are both informative and evocative, and well worth a few minutes of your time to read.
One interesting result was the weight given to what some might consider baseline academic and safety requirements. One could argue that these should get either the highest possible vote or none, depending on whether or not one assumes that SBC will make those criteria central anyway. Or perhaps it reflects a real balance between “good enough” education and financial, siting or other values. A question for next time.
Further work on grouping criteria into sets that might be met by a common design feature could prove important. It may be, for example, that a number of lower-valued criteria can all be satisfied at once, and cheaply, by sacrificing a single more popular criterion. (Or without sacrifice at all.) That too will make for interesting discussion. It also emphasizes the point that an optimal solution may be able to satisfy—or provide infrastructure or other elements for the later satisfaction of—other major Town needs.
One item that may not be quite clear yet—perhaps should not be?—is the precise overarching purpose of the current effort. Examples might include:
- Tweak the “preferred option” so we can ram it through Town Meeting in March.
- Do whatever’s necessary to collect that $21million.
- Figure out a way to balance what we can comfortably afford now with what we must have over time, leading to a more definitive choice between repair, replace or some hybrid.
- Do just enough rejiggering to convince ourselves that we could both collect the big bucks and work out the other 85% to people’s satisfaction after approval.
- Take a broad enough view to decide whether we care more about MSBA funding or an eventual, more-optimal design even at full price.
- Make a unified case compelling enough that some large soul in town will pick up some of the tab, reducing time and financial pressures at one swell foop. (OK, we all have dreams…)
As a taxpayer, I place my colored dots on the latter three options. I’d like to get the subsidy, if assured that the plan wasn’t overmuch deformed around it. I’d like to know that the local architects I most respect have assessed what is now known and thought, added their measures of wisdom and insight, and blessed the best design that can be drawn from it. And—from long experience managing in crises (some merely of major financial import)—I will assert not the slightest doubt that there is more than enough time to reach a happy conclusion if tone and quality of participation continue in this favorable path.