Be careful what you ask when seeking Federal funds


Be careful what you ask for because you just may get it, are the words that came to mind as I have read about the County Commission voting to ask Representatives Bart Gordon and Jim Cooper to include the proposed new Lebanon High School as part of President Barack Obama’s proposed stimulus package. While I think it is great that our Commission is thinking outside the proverbial “box” in finding a way to fund the much needed and overdue Lebanon High School, I just hope that they consider all the potential ramifications of such a request.

My professional experience as an architect has illustrated to me that when Federal or State funds are requested and granted to a local municipality that all of a sudden control of the project shifts from the local level to that of the entity providing the funding, potentially in this case to the Federal Government. In most cases this can have dire consequences on the budget, design and construction of a facility.

In this case for example, the budget can be affected by the requirement of the implementation of a federal pay scale for all construction workers. While workers being paid more per hour for various tasks is not a negative for the worker it does cause the cost of the construction to be more than if the workers are paid their regular “local” pay scale.

It has been correctly pointed out  this is a very good time to engage in a construction project due to the lower labor and material costs that are being seen in the construction industry due to the decrease in the amount of work presently ongoing. However, if a federal pay scale is required then we the taxpayers will not be able to take advantage of the lower labor costs.

Another way a pay scale can increase the budget of the project is that the architect will be required to review the wages paid to each worker for each task they have preformed each week during construction to make sure they are receiving the proper wages. This takes time on behalf of the architect, time for which the architect will expect to be reimbursed and which is probably not factored into their fees at this time.

Receiving Federal funds could also affect the design of the project by requiring more stringent building codes be followed and the newly adopted requirement that federal funded buildings be “green buildings” or LEED Certified. 

Executive Order 13123, "Greening the Government Through Efficient Energy Management" requires agencies to apply sustainable design principles to the siting, design and construction of new facilities.

While it is yet to be seen what the requirements of the proposed stimulus package will be, we do know President Obama has stated he wants to create more clean energy jobs. So one can only surmise that green buildings will be a requirement of any Federal funds granted for building construction.

This will not negatively impact the facility except that it will require more expense to design and construction of the facility. Since the facility is already designed to the City of Lebanon and State of Tennessee building and energy codes, if there are any Federal standards that are not currently met in the design, the design will have to be changed. Once again the architect will have to spend time and staffing to change the design to meet the standards which will require more fees. 

Also, if the building is required to meet green building standards the cost for the application of the facility for LEED Certification, without any guarantee the project will be accepted, could be $40,000 or more. Then more fees would have to be paid by the taxpayers to employee personnel who will observe and inspect the construction to make sure the green standards are being followed as designed.

Finally, the cost to change the construction methods of the facility could be increased due to any Federal standards being required. The requirement of the facility to be a green building could increase the construction cost anywhere from 10-25 percent depending on the level being met. While items such as a geo-thermal heat and air system will pay for itself in a matter of a few years and is a wise investment on the front end, other items will not pay for themselves as quickly or at all and can cause the life cycle cost including ongoing maintenance to cost more once again for us the taxpayers of Wilson County.

As an alumnus of Lebanon High School (1984) I do want to see us have a new Lebanon High School facility in the near future. And I do want us to receive the best facility we can afford. However, as with the recent fiasco that has surrounded the bidding of the new LHS it is time that our Commission watches each step they take and that they analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each step to make sure they know repercussions of each and every decision. Be careful Commission what you ask for because you may get more than ask for, literally.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Oakley is an architect with Whitehead-Oakley-Dunlap-Bumpas, LLC in Smyrna.