Cawley Site Makes No Cents

I spent twelve years working as an auditor and accountant.  I took accounting courses at UMASS-Lowell, as well as Suffolk University.   I do not talk about it because I loved teaching, but did not care for my previous work.  But I think I can use my experiences to make a simple statement about the Cawley site.  It makes no sense.

We have a useful building for a high school.  The 1922 building by itself is worth millions of dollars if used as an academic building.  The 1893 building further accents the argument.  It is in very good structural shape, and is a useful academic building.  The problem is that we are, if we choose another site to build on, throwing out the baby with the bath water.  Now, that saying comes from an old Pioneer custom, hot water on the Plains was hard to come by, so the first bath went to the head of the household.  After he was done, the second bath went to the mother.  As the water slowly cooled down the third bath went to the oldest child, and that continued until the water was so dirty that the baby was the last one washed in it.  It was easy to lose the baby in the muddy water.  He or she was the last one to use the by then, muddy water.  Losing the baby in the bathwater was a real possibility.  Thus the saying.

The baby in the high school argument is the 1980 building, it is perfectly useful but not currently in great shape.  That will come if we choose the right option.   It  will end up empty if we choose the Cawley option.  The 1922 building is the mother using the father’s dirty water.  She has to be utilized or the bath was a waste.  Finally, there is the 1893 building.  It can handle students but gets closed down while being perfectly useful in its handling of students.  The Freshman Academy is just out there.  Nobody wants to move it but it cannot, with the Cawley option, stay in the educational loop.  Each building can be used, we have just given up on them.  I know more about the history of those buildings than most people.  There is no logical reason to throw them out.  They are useful and pragmatic.

We are asking too much of the Cawley building.  It cannot do all of the things the current high school can do.  It will be too small and we are going to have to put in multi-millions of dollars to make it useful.  As is, it is too small for a swimming pool.  We have to be prepared for the building failing.  Millions are going to be spent to keep the aging building, and it will be aging in just a few short years.  It will not be new for long, because the constancy of  being like the 1980 building is great.  Leaky roofs are probably being factored in by the earliest architects. The Cawley will have problems from the beginning.  John McDonough  has a bunch of sheets on which are the need for maintenance of every school, including the newest ones, and the list is massive.  The Cawley building will be old before its time.  That is not being pessimistic, that is being realistic.

We have a full campus at the existing high school.  If you placed an educational value on the current high school, it would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Let’s say 250 million dollars.  If you add the 336 million dollars offered by the state, we could have one heck of a building adding those two sites together and keeping the Freshman Academy where it is.  The minimal value would be 586 million dollars.  We would have a new high school for slightly over a half a billion dollars.  That means that the new building, which will cost approximately 336 million dollars, will be one heck of a building.

As I said, I was an auditor at Wang.  I once, working by myself for a day, found one million dollars for the corporation in maintenance costs which were not being billed.  That is one million dollars per year.  If Wang was still in business, and simply had that one audit intact, times twenty years since the inception of the audit, Wang would have an extra 20 million dollars.  We have some City Councilors who pride themselves on being able to add and subtract.  They should spend a lot of time adding and subtracting the cost of having Cawley as the high school.  I think that they would  be as surprised as I  was when I decided to determine the cost of not using the current buildings.  It is very sobering.

That is just my take on it.   I am using life experiences to come up with my arguments.  But they are good experiences.

One thought on “Cawley Site Makes No Cents

  1. C R Krieger

    For my credential, “I took accounting courses at UMASS-Lowell,” but not to be an accountant, but to try to understand accountants.

    Anyway, I think the Achilles Heel of the downtown site is the hidden costs. When I arrived in Lowell the Big Dig had grown from about $5.6 Billion to about $8.5 Billion. I said I thought it would grow to $13 Billion. How wrong I was. I worry about the costs yet to be revealed in the Option 1/2/3 approach.

    Further, I worry about an Option 0. While the MSBA has promised to wait for us, not every bride waits for ever for every groom. Once in a while they give up. What if Lower Trainswitch comes along and points out that it needs money, and in fact has its act together. Then we are at Option 0, which is we have to do repairs to the current site with money out of the Lowell City Budget and what additional taxes we can add. I worry that no one is looking at this Option, if only in their spare time.

    Finally, I would say that I am for a two high school solution, one out in Pawtucketville and one in the Hamilton Canal District (hat tip to John McDonough).

    Regards — Cliff

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