In challenging economic times, it is especially difficult to pass a bond referendum for school districts. School districts across the Midwest had several local ballot measures fail last fall. The failed measures are not due to the lack of school district needs. Often times, it is the consequence of an ill-informed community. When defining the district’s needs, it is crucial that the school board and community advocates are involved in the early stages of development and kept informed throughout the entire pre-bond process. It is essential for the group to have input in making decisions; performing thorough reviews and studying all available planning options. A school design consultant that is experienced in educational facility planning, should be retained to lead this group through the planning process. The consultant’s prime focus is to determine needs by assessing how new or renovated facilities support the district’s educational programs. This consultant should be equipped with architectural/engineering disciplines, cost estimating services and a comprehensive process for communicating the district’s vision through design. The district’s financial adviser should also be available at planning sessions to provide support and advice on the bond market and tax impacts.
As the planning process evolves, school districts must provide information about the bond referendum in a natural manner. Their role is to encourage people to vote and to distribute factual information to the public. That is why it is essential for community members to take the lead in promoting the referendum. A well-organized grassroots effort, lead by energetic citizens, is the ideal way to sell a bond referendum to the general public. The grassroots promotional campaign operates independently of the district and seeks out support for the referendum. These individuals have a great deal of latitude in their promotional work through public meetings, block parties, door-to-door distribution of promotional materials, phone call campaigns and personal contact with potential voters. Concentration on the “yes” and “undecided” voters during the campaign is important. Never assume you have all the votes needed for the bond to pass. How many times do we hear that a ballot measure failed by 3, 6 or 9 votes? That is why every vote in support of a ballot measure is important and necessary to pass the referendum.
The needs for facilities that improve educational achievement are not going away. When it comes to educating our youth, it is not a viable option to wait and hope the economy recovers before seeking a better learning environment. An education district, teamed with a proven design consultant, informed school board and well-organized grassroots citizen group can overcome this uncertain economy.
Schemmer was featured in the Midlands Business Journal for the addition of the external blog.
Tracy Mumford was quoted saying the blog “…asks architects and engineers to write entries about issues of interest…”
The article continued on by giving Frank Comisar’s interpretation of the blog, “…the goal of the blog is to create an interactive online community of people with related interests who can share thoughts and ideas.”
Mumford finished with, “It’s a way to connect with an audience.”
Omaha, Nebraska – The Schemmer Associates Inc. Schemmer recently promoted Randy G. Fehl, P.E., to the position of Water and Wastewater Group Leader. Previously, Randy served as the firm’s Municipal and Water Resources Group Leader.
Randy is a registered professional engineer with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from South Dakota State University. He has more than 24 years of experience, 11 of which are with Schemmer. Randy is a graduate of The Schemmer Associates Leadership Academy and he is a shareholder with the firm.
Randy has experience on projects in the private sector as well as municipal, state- and federally-funded projects. He has worked on many projects involving roadways and streets and has been specifically involved in street reconstruction, infrastructure upgrades including total reconstruction of sanitary sewer, storm sewer and water distribution systems, streetscaping, roadway design and obtaining necessary easements and right-of-way. He has also designed numerous projects involving water distribution modeling, distribution extension projects and water supply wells.
In addition to his day to day responsibilities, Randy is also active within the profession and the community. He serves on the Leadership Council Bluffs curriculum board, the Council Bluffs Public Schools Facility Committee, the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce D.C Ambassadors committee, is a past President of the Grenville Dodge Chapter of the Iowa Engineering Society, and remains active within Iowa Engineering Society.
Reading skills are the greatest single predictor of future academic success (National Assessment of Educational Progress); yet, sixteen (16%) percent of the Omaha population are functionally illiterate. They can’t read well enough to fill out a job application, read a food label, or read to their children. (Literacy Center of the Midlands)
Introducing A Book of My Own … a Literacy Project designed to put a book in the home and heart of every child from birth to 14 years of age. It’s simple. A Book of My Own collects, sorts and distributes new and gently used books to at-risk children. And this is where Schemmer stepped in.
The Schemmer Associates partnered with Junior League of Omaha and hosted book drives at each of their six office locations – Omaha, Lincoln, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The goal was to collect one book for every staff member in each of the offices – 100 books. At the end of a two week long book drive, Schemmer collected over 345 books and crushed their goal.
To learn more about A Book of My Own visit the Junior League of Omaha’s website -
Though many of us resist the idea, greater things can be accomplished by teams than by individuals. Often we feel it’s easier to do it ourselves due to the effort it takes to ask for help or to instruct others. We lose the feeling of our own importance spreading the work around. It takes effort and leadership to determine how best to accomplish our goals, and only by forming effective teams can exceptional goals be accomplished.
When forming our teams, most times they have been assembled by chance and not by a deliberate effort of selection. We select those already closest to us in our work environments or those who act and think like us or those with whom we are most comfortable working with. Instead, we should be selecting members with diverse strengths, strengths we don’t possess ourselves, to maximize the team.
According to Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, in their book Strengths Based Leadership, the most effective teams are well rounded, possessing one of each of the following four leadership traits:
- Executors: force within the team to implement the actions required to accomplish goals
- Influencers: persuade team members and those outside the team to make decisions leading to successful outcomes
- Relationship Builders: focused to build confidence by encouragement and creating positivity
- Strategic Thinkers: focus and guide the team to the future vision
The Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane faced major league teams, who outspent the A’s on individual talent by up to three times his available resources. With help, he deliberately assembled a team filled with overlooked, individual players. They each had a specific talent that when combined as a cohesive team produced grand results. Though sports analogies are usually the easiest to identify, we can apply these team building ideas to our own professions. Another successful sports leader had the same idea years before.
“The secret is to work less as individuals and more as a team. As a coach, I play not my eleven best, but my best eleven.”
- Knute Rockne, Notre Dame Head Football Coach, 1918-1930.
If a client were to ask me, “What is the most innovative design strategy that could make my affordable housing project more sustainable?” What would be my answer? Deciding on ONE thing is like trying to pick my favorite food—can’t do it. But site design is where a sustainable approach begins, so I would start there. Sustainable neighborhoods are built upon connectivity, density, diversity, and an “eyes on the street” approach to architectural design.
I live in a 1908 house in an old neighborhood of Lincoln. It’s a traditional gridded street pattern with alleys. It’s dense, it has a mixture of large historic homes, modest single family and multifamily homes. There’s a lot of shade, there are plenty-big backyards, shallow front yards and because the garage is detached from the house, when I come home after work I see my neighbor when he’s tending his lawn (which is always unless it’s covered in snow). Because of the density, cars park on both sides of the street. This means traffic can’t zoom through the neighborhood because two cars can’t pass unless one pulls over at a break in the parking (like at driveways). The parked cars are a buffer between kids playing in the yard and the traffic. And the large front porches enliven the streetscape with activity—the emphasis as you look down the street is the front porch, not the garage door.
Awhile back, I heard a speaker from the National Institute of Health report on a study regarding the safety of neighborhoods. If you’re riding your bike in suburbia, you are actually more likely to be hit by a car than if you’re riding your bike in an old neighborhood like mine. Why? Because suburban developments are designed so you can drive your car fast (because you don’t live close to anything you have to drive everywhere which leads to more traffic and the need to have wider roads for cars driving at fast speeds). Cul-de-sacs lead to feeder roads, those lead to 4-lane arterials. You don’t see many bicyclers on those roads, or pedestrians. People driving cars don’t expect to encounter bicyclers. Thus, those hardy souls riding their bikes in these harsh landscapes are more likely to be hit by a car. Wow.
Sustainable neighborhood design also means you can walk to the grocery store, you can walk to work. Your kid can ride their bike to their friend’s house. If you can walk places without fear of crossing a 4-lane, arterial street with traffic racing by at 45-50mph, then you will also be healthier (you will also be healthier because you haven’t been hit by a car!).
So what is the ONE thing we should do to make our neighborhoods more sustainable? We should design them so they are livable—then they will be sustainable. After that, we can look at solar panels, triple-pane windows, and no-VOC interiors for the buildings.