Tuesday, November 20, 2007

on externalities

I only have one question as it relates to the debate heating up over the future of the Schenley High School building. The debate as it has been framed publicly is simple enough: the building is old (opened in 1916), facing growing maintenance problems and a very expensive asbestos remediation cost were it to remain open. I just wonder what the plan is for the building if it does close? It's a huge building impacting a broad swath of North Oakland. I hope that the costs (direct and indirect) for whatever will happen with the building are included in the debate.

This gets to a lot of difficult accounting in the public sector. The school district has a real issue and it's cost benefit analysis may lead it to one obvious solution: close the building. Yet if there is going to be a big cost on community to leaving that huge building in place to deteriorate, where do those costs get accounted for. Is the plan to raze the building? Asbestos is asbestos and I bet the costs just to remediate enough to bring down the building are non-trivial. Again, its a cost that needs to be accounted for. It's a bit hard to imagine an alternate use for the building and the potential costs that would incur somebody.

Just questions. I don't have any answers, but am surprised this is not a part of the public debate as I have heard it. Without doubt, its a tough problem.

If nothing else, there is some progress in government transparency in all of this. the Pittsburgh BOE has at least put up some of the documents relating to all of this via this web link. I will take some issue that it says the "file is too big" to put one report online completely, but needs to be viewed in person. Not that hard to break a file into pieces, or scan at lower resolutions... but what do I know? It's also a little odd that a report labeled 'early history' goes back to 2005. I bet the asbestos has been there a lot longer than that.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Think of it from a time preferences frame: people prefer benefits upfront and costs later. Politicians of all stripe particularly like costs that accrue after they've left office.

Even with a nice low discount rate like 4%, if you assume the costs to pull down the building are borne 20 years from now, the NPV of that cost is comparatively small. Put a few sheets of plywood over the windows and a Somebody Else's Problem field around it and move on.

...which is to say: I agree with you 100%. You raise good points. Consider raising them to decision makers?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 2:17:00 PM  
Blogger bekah_dee78 said...

As a graduate of Schenley High School, I would be sad to see current students move out of the building. But I do not agree with having anyone in a building that is unsafe. My only question is this: why would they wait until the building was falling around to try and fix it? Wouldn't it have saved money to fix things as they break instead of waiting until the building was crumbling?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 4:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's an easy bet that the building would get sold to Pitt quicker than you could spell a-b-a-t-e-m-e-n-t. It's an attractive piece of real estate, after all. I don't think it would be in danger of sitting empty for very long.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 10:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Schenley is a historic landmark, so it can't be razed, and the outside has to stay exactly how it is, but the inside can be changed.

Every school in Pittsburgh has asbestos in it, minus the 2 schools built most recently.

So what happens when the asbestos of mass destruction crisis hits a school you can't just close, like Allderdice?

If the BOE is trying to sell their Oakland property, they should sell the board building and move Mark Roosevelt's office to the Reizenstein building in East Liberty.

Sunday, November 25, 2007 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Andrea said, it's almost a sure bet that they'll sell the building to Pitt. From what I've heard, Pitt's been eyeing it for years. They wouldn't bat an eyelash at paying to fix it up, I'm sure.

I have my suspicion that the school district wants to sell it to Pitt, and that is the reason they're pushing this so hard. Because surely there are alternative ways of funding the repairs. Goodness knows I would donate a few bucks to save my old high school. I'm sure many other alumni (and parents, and maybe even current students) would do so too.

Monday, November 26, 2007 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I really would not make that assumption. Past space needs were acute, but have been met by a lot of construction. If the remediation issues are as bad as they say the university architect would have real issues for getting this ready for regular use and the cost would be a real issue.. the costs to make this into some medical/scientific space would be quite a lot beyond just the costs the school district is talking about for their immediate problems. There are some smaller buildings in oakland that the university did not exactly jump at and have yet to use (the former univ club is outside my window is a case in point). While not about to become Pitt space I am sure, the reprogramming of the Children's space is going to have some overall impact on the institutional demand in Oakland as well. Even if they did take it, I would be surprised if they were willing to actually pay much for it vice take it off the school district's hand.

Monday, November 26, 2007 10:21:00 AM  
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