“It’s not what you expect, it’s what you inspect.” This is what Casey Sledge, P.E., of Sledge Engineering, wants superintendents and school construction personnel to understand. “Construction fraud happens, and it’s easy to do. That’s where we come in.”
The “we” is a joint venture between Sledge Engineering and Education Service Center Region 13. The ESC Region 13 Construction and Facility Services (CFS) provides strategic facilities planning, bond preparation, construction oversight, fraud management, and generally ensures schools are not taken advantage of during construction projects. This team of experienced superintendents and business managers assist schools while day-to-day project oversight is powered by Sledge Engineering.
Saving money can happen anytime
“It’s never too late to give us a call,” says Sledge. “We’ve saved districts significant amounts of money and time no matter when we join a project, says Sledge. Ideally, CFS is involved from the ground up. CFS works with district leaders offering guidance on proposed bonds, project planning stages, and until their construction is complete. Continued services assist with additional construction projects or facilities planning. CFS is an independent source of truth for superintendents providing efficient, accountable, and transparent guidance for school districts.
Sledge is a native Texan who graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Civil Engineering. He spent 10 years as a city engineer, starting out in the Fort Worth area. “I planned to be a city engineer or city manager until I retired,” says Sledge. Sledge Engineering began in 2004 when Casey decided being independent was the best way to help as many cities and people as possible. One of his first experiences with school construction came in Fayetteville where he helped build a new school building. This experience introduced him to Dr. Rich Elsasser. Elsasser is currently the Executive Director of ESC Region 13. The two stayed in touch after the Fayetteville project. When Elsasser had the idea for the CFS, he brought Sledge Engineering onboard as a trusted partner.
School construction in the k-12 market
Now Sledge Engineering is 100% in the K-12 market. “Working on my first school project really opened my eyes to the lack of accountability in school construction,” says Sledge. Sledge feels school construction is the place he can use his expertise by providing guidance to superintendents with project oversight. Part of that guidance begins with a Strategic Facilities Plan. “Some districts are growing so fast, it’s hard for them to develop an overall plan. They need help developing something that encompasses growth in a thoughtful way for many years to come.”
A Strategic Facilities Plan is a broad overview of the school district guiding school boards and superintendents in making informed decisions. They are usually updated every two-five years. The key is getting a school board to adopt a long-range plan that provides consistency for the future even as Board members come and go. Having a legacy plan in place benefits the students, district, and the taxpayers. “Long Range Planning is required by TEA and should include a purposeful look at the school’s vision, a comprehensive look at facilities, and intentional planning to map out the district’s future.” Some schools want help developing their plan, meanwhile other schools just want help managing a particular project. Sledge says, “We can do either. It’s never too late for a school to develop a good strategic facilities plan.”
What about a bond?
“Overall, the first thing a superintendent should do after a bond passes is evaluate promises made to taxpayers and determine how they can be delivered efficiently,” says Sledge. There are three main priorities for any project: price, quality, and time. “These three control projects but you’ve got to prioritize and decide which of them are most important.” Money is usually the driving force behind priorities. Sledge describes some of this process as deciding what “level of niceness” districts want and using their money wisely to get the best they can in all areas. “CFS can help you take the money you have and stretch it as far as it will go with informed choices, good management, and budget oversight,” says Sledge.
Why do I need project management?
When asked why superintendents should use CFS, Sledge explains, “Construction projects are complex. There are many moving parts and pieces. Likewise, educators are trained to educate, not in construction.” Superintendents are bombarded by multiple vendors with the number of vendors or subcontractors on a project can easily number 20 or more.
“We are an independent voice helping superintendents make informed decisions. By overseeing the multiple parts of the project and making sure things are running effectively and efficiently, we have the ability to stay on top of the budget and timeline while you spend time staying on top of school business,” says Sledge. “Vendors are in business and their goal is to make a profit,” says Sledge, “they may not have your best interest at heart.” Other complex steps in construction projects include knowing building code, compliance issues, and pulling permits. The building code is often hard to follow and regulatory requirements can be tedious for those unfamiliar with it.
Waste management is a big concern with the average building project containing as much as 10% waste. There are two types of waste: intentional and unintentional. Intentional waste might be a vendor suggesting granite countertops when a high-quality laminate would add the same value but save a lot of money that could be used for other things. Intentional waste can slip by superintendents because they don’t catch it in time or or may not understand the difference between building code requirements and vendors trying to upsell a product. “When there is waste in a project plan, we can get it back for you,” says Sledge. “We can save you an average of 10%. This could be money or time. The average elementary school costs $30-40 million dollars to build. We can save $3-4 million dollars – think what you could do with the extra money!”
Consistent project management is the key
CFS expertise plays a role in the ability to bundle services together. Through correct and consistent project management, CFS can manage vendors and subcontractors to keep projects moving forward. “By bundling projects we can get contractors working together faster – sometimes shaving years from the project timeline. Our management has proven to be up to 33% faster than school personnel trying to manage a project or relying on vendors to do the right thing,” says Sledge. “There is real value in project management when it’s done right. We can manage your project correctly from start to finish and risk management is less of an issue. We do project management the right way, adding value to your district plan, building projects, and improving taxpayers trust.”
For more information on how CFS can help your district, visit our website at https://esc13.net/services/construction-facility-services.