Public Building Commission not much better

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Before the School Reform Board took office in 1995, most school construction and rehabilitation was administered by the Public Building Commission.

It hasn’t provided a public accounting of its work either.

Since 1989, the PBC has done about $650 million in work for the School Board, with about $407 million going into rehab and $250 million going into new buildings.

Asked for an account of what rehab work was done, when, and at what cost, PBC spokesperson Susan Ross replies: “We can account for it, but it isn’t like I can give you right now a chart with every detail.” Because of the way the PBC keeps its records, she says, finding such information is “like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

“If you have questions about a particular school, I can probably find that out for you,” Ross adds. But details on the big picture “could take me eight months to put together.”

“I think that’s outrageous,” says Jacqueline Leavy, executive director of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, a non-profit organization that monitors construction and major repair spending by local government entitities in Chicago. “It was our [taxpayers’] money. It’s ridiculous that they can’t account for how that money was spent. … It’s just basic. It ain’t their money. It’s our money. We ought to be able to know where it goes.”

Ross has culled information on new construction projects, she says, including the price of each project, the start and completion dates, and the number of children each structure can accommodate. She says that’s because she gets more calls from reporters about new construction projects than about rehab work.

In late March, Ross told Catalyst that she would soon produce a partial report on rehab work. The information comes from a database maintained by Schal Bovis, a major contractor that oversaw most of the PBC’s recent projects. Schal Bovis will be one of three companies playing a similar role in upcoming work on the School Board’s Capital Improvement Program.