The following plan should be implemented as a part of the new presidents stimulus package. We have many of our economic resources in the hands of private individuals and families. That is where this nation's true wealth is held. I don't think anyone knows exactly how large this may be; but, rest assured, it is a staggering sum. We only need to find a way to stimulate them into, once again, investing in America. To do that we must show them that we are prepared to do things differently, and that they will not be ripped off in the process. I believe that I have just such a plan, and I am going to outline it right now. Admittedly, what I will propose still leaves a great deal to be done, but it can be done rather quickly; certainly as swiftly as any of the currently proposed infrastructure projects. Perhaps the most important concern is that this all be approached by persons who wish to see something remarkable done, and yet are willing to have it accomplished without the need to line their own, personal, pockets.
I am a California Licensed Architect, having graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1959. I have a proposal that could save the State of California an enormous amount of money if it were even partially implemented. It would also revitalize the State's school system, the construction industry and the economy in general to such an extent that the entire United States of America would be regenerated by following California's lead. I came up with this concept in a brainstorming session nearly 40 years ago, but conditions were never so critical as to make worthwhile the changes in thinking that would be necessary for its implementation. It will require a novel approach to quite a number of processes to which we have become accustomed.
THE BASIC PHILOSOPHY:
Take our K12 universal education program, an integral resource provided by our country and something that has been a fiscal hardship since its inception, and turn it into a fiscal asset that no longer has to be supported by the tax money of our citizens, easing the way for modernization of the entire system and improvement of the teacher component with an overall reduction in the total tax burden; while, at the same time, providing an investment opportunity of immense proportions for those who have found such chances vanishing in today's market place, or smothered by mountains of red-tape and bureaucracy.
Though there is a great deal to be said and explored with this topic, let's just hit the high spots right now with the following steps:
1. The Governor proposes, or a bill is passed by the California State Legislature, that all of the schools in the (988) K12 school districts in California are immediately available for mixed-use development; that the Developers will have free, irrevocable 99 year land leases so long as they comply with the requirements of the lease agreement. At the end of such time, all development will revert back to the school districts unless an extension of the lease agreement is agreed upon by all concerned. I do not have a preferred method for the selection of Developers, but it should probably be on the basis of the merit of their proposals as determined by some kind of jury, or their compliance with a yet to be established set of standards. Most importantly, all political influence must be eliminated from the process. No "old-boy" selections; totally unbiased and based on the developers' merits; and, though their fiscal capability would certainly enhance their selectabilty, the size of their wallets would not be a major determining factor. All of this needs much more study; but, hopefully, you get the point. Nation wide there would be nearly 100,000 sites available for development under some very favorable conditions. This should minimally attract hundreds, if not thousands, of investor-developers of every flavor. I don't wish to intimate that this will be a piece of cake, or even real easy, but definitely doable in the immediate future.
2. The parameters for the design for each "school" would be established so the "school" harmonizes with the surrounding neighborhood, but not be limited to less than some prescribed height limitation, in the range of 5 to 6 stories, with significant setbacks providing substantial fire separations with the adjacent properties. Though the designs must be compatible with the encompassing neighborhoods, totally different
standards should be set that allow the Developers significant latitude, thereby assuring profitability for their ventures. These will be mixed-use occupancy complexes that encourage tenancy by the teachers and staffers of the actual schools at the upper levels, maybe even as conditions of their employment, with the intention of reducing the amount of travel from home to work and back for all concerned. Families whose students were to attend the school would also be prospective occupants. All of the accommodations for the school function will be comparably suitable for use by the students. Imagine barber shops, hair boutiques, Laundromats and the like right on the premises, providing services for everyone: students, staffers and tenants. This would provide an ideal opportunity for the growth of certain franchises to be a part of all the complexes on a nationwide basis.
The building designs will have to possess flexibility features that make them readily adaptable to different uses, with exceptional maintenance-free characteristics. One of the very first tasks to be undertaken would be the conceptualization of the "ideal school". Contrary to most construction endeavors, I would propose that competitive bids NOT be the dominant, driving force. We should work with the finest manufacturers of the component elements to create packages that can be duplicated more or less where ever we may want to use them. Not a "cookie-cutter" sort of facility, but one in which all of the uncertainty and problematic that plague today's construction sites have been eliminated. Once again, politics and influence would be avoided in the extreme. Quality and performance would be the guiding light in making selections. Not pull. Frankly, the construction industry as a whole has been pretty sloppy and disorganized in almost everything it has done, probably due mostly to the temperamental, proprietary nature of its designers and architects, mostly a herd of prima-donnas and joiners.
Hopefully, I will be part of the group who does that planning. It is not just the buildings that need to be adequately programmed, but the entire sites. Currently our schools have huge spaces for playgrounds and such that most of the time go largely unused. I see those areas as being used to be house parking beneath them; at least one layer, perhaps more under truly suitable conditions, allowing them to reasonably lease parking spaces to dwellers in the neighborhood in addition to those occupying quarters above the school itself, moving much of the vehicular surplus off of the streets and into protected, sheltered spaces. Having turf-covered tops for the playgrounds, this parking would not have uncontrollable storm water run-off, and the raised grounds could be constructed in such a manner as to both collect and manage the drainage, processing and redirecting much of that water back to supply the school's needs for both potable water and irrigation. Needless to say, other energy saving mechanisms would be incorporated into the designs as well.
3. The Developers will be required to provide as many or as few classrooms as the school district determines it needs for each year, along with the corresponding miscellaneous service areas that are
required to accompany those classrooms. This varying need has always presented the school districts with an enormous logistics problem. At some point, in some instances, the Developer would provide interaction and transportation to other schools when the demand for classrooms at a specific site fell below some established minimum. Also, keep in mind, that all new school facilities would have state of the art computer and multimedia centers, advancing the methods of education by enabling the very best teachers to be available everywhere. Sometimes the local teachers, those actually in the classrooms, would be no more than facilitators, managing the equipment that provided displays and demonstrations from some other place. The educational methodology and the whole concept of how things are taught would be subject to examination and modification/augmentation at this time with the understanding that a totally new facility would be in use.
4. The Developers will be required to maintain the entire Development in pristine condition at all times. The schools would no longer have to hire maintenance personnel, nor buy the materials necessary for their upkeep and repair. It would be this maintenance factor that would provide the initial inducement on the part of the developer that they vest their projects with more costly, trouble-free materials than would be used by a low bidder mentality. Remember: Quality and Reliability. In the long run, the cheapest is ALWAYS the most expensive. However, an undertaking of this magnitude should allow for the negotiation of excellent pricing for all materials and equipment used - even from the most elite manufacturers and suppliers.
5. The Developers will be allowed to rent or lease the unneeded facilities and to bank the proceeds. Unlike operations at this time, where some schools are allowed to lie fallow, unused and sometimes decaying when they are not currently needed, a natural process of maturing neighborhoods, developers could cutback on the facilities provided for any given school during such periods and refurbish the elements that were not needed to be reused for other purposes, including small businesses and commercial ventures. Once again, it is this required flexibility that would induce them to spend more than they might normally spend in order to make this transition reasonably achievable and in a timely, efficient manner.
6. In addition to the parking amenities mentioned earlier, such accommodations as cafeterias, athletic facilities of all types - indoor and outdoor, libraries and computer labs would be available to those dwelling on the sites as well as the students and staffers. Each school would essentially become a mini-city that some might never chance, or at least need, to frequently leave. With a somewhat captive audience of, perhaps, a thousand or more, and, with appropriate inducements, small businesses could spring up within the school as soon as the opportunities are recognized, and they WOULD BE recognized.
7. Additionally, greater security would be provided by and for the tenants and truly convenient child-care would be provided for them as well. Though a preponderance of women at a "school" will be working there and elsewhere, there will always be those young and not so young who chose to stay at home, working or not. Schools will become a hub of electronic activity in every locale, providing facilities for continuing education programs for all professions.
8. Features of this concept:
A. Provides an enormous shot in the arm to the entire construction industry from individual Developers down to material manufacturers and planning and design professionals.
B. Dramatically reduces the cost of physical plants for the individual School Districts, including daily maintenance and eliminated "down-time".
C. Provides a method of improving our entire educational program without impacting taxes.
D. Moves a huge property asset ONTO the tax roles at much larger assessed values.
E. Has the potential of reducing the distances and resources required in transporting students, teachers and staffers to and from work/study.
F. Provides an opportunity to update schools that have long needed this without impacting taxes,
since this would be a National improvement program, phased over a series of years, perhaps as many as five or six - years. It could be stretched out longer, but it really needs to be done very quickly; certainly within the duration of a single president's administration.
G. The program can be implemented, at least in the planning stages, and with selected specific, target sites, immediately as soon as the "powers that be" put their stamp of approval on its feasibility; Not something that should require a great deal of time evaluating, since its benefits are so obvious for all to see. After that the snowball should continue to roll magnificently.
9. How would this be financed? In pretty much the same manner as the current fiscal bailouts that the Government is proposing; however, in this case we could see a pay-back from the lease agreements that all developers would have to sign. This is one of the major considerations that does need to be addressed soon. Most costs for these developments would actually be paid for by the Investor/Developers, not the taxpayers; but the seed money to get things started, along with certain assurances, would be supplied by States & Feds.
In very recent years, planners across the nation have come to embrace the concept of mixed use occupancies. We have almost always had mixed use commercial/residential occupancy in the form of owners living over their businesses. This goes way back and over the years planners have been reluctant to change or limit this approach. Good for them! Then we had the advent of Industrial complexes. Generally, with no mix, but usually not with "anti-mix" limitations, though not widely used except to make provisions for associated office space. Then came all of the specialized zoning, targeted as was usually declared for purposes of the public health and safety: Governmental, medical/dental, educational, etc. ad nauseam, often with very special interests in mind. Generally, politics and special interests received their privileged payoffs in the zoning.
Sometime earlier, in the guise of City and Regional Planning, our nation was cut up into regions of land with very specific zoning designations and limitations. I don't intend this to be a lesson or description of Planning and Zoning, even if I were capable of providing one. Nevertheless, we now find our nation's land chopped up into a variety of pieces with designated Use types, all with the pretense of "organizing" our structures. Some of it even makes good sense; or "made" good sense when the divisions were initially conceived. Now we find little solace or satisfaction with the limitations with which we find ourselves encumbered by this zoning.
What if, as Real Estate Developers, we found ourselves with a virtually unlimited number of building sites - nearly 100,000 spread somewhat uniformly across the entire United States of America, virtually every one composed of at least 4 to 5 acres; and that they already have structures on them, with most being used to a very limited capacity from nearly every perspective. Further, that due to the exigencies of the times we find that we will be allowed to obtain a very long term lease on the properties in question for a very minimal consideration so long as we agree to do certain very specific things; and that we will be allowed to augment, change and replace the existing structures without the normal, bureaucratic folderol; that, as things progress, we will even have engineered complexes that we may utilize almost in their entirety, again and again to further reduce the cost and time of development.
This can not happen the very next day, week, month or maybe, even, year; and will require some rather deep pocketed exploration and planning. Actually, it can happen rather quickly with some selected targets to generate a modicum of cash flow; but the overall potential of the concept will not be realized until the literally thousands of individuals needed become involved in the process. It should snowball as developers all over the nation take up their cudgels and begin to develop sites in their locale. City, County, State and Regional Planning boards will need to make certain rulings in order to make possible the implementation of the concept. At first, not all will see the advantages, but it will only take one to set the trend and to formalize the program. For the government to present this concept as doable and make an initial seeding is mandatory.
So, where are all of these development sites? Everywhere! This is the largest readily available land area that may be used for mixed-use occupancies without major expenses to the Developers. The president merely has to accept the challenge to do something of this magnitude right now. Today. Let's go America! This program can put America back to work doing something that needs to be done right this minute.