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Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com — August 15, 2012 at 10:00 am 2,635 45 Comments

W-L Softball Field Price Tag Increases — The anticipated cost of a new softball field for Washington-Lee High School has increased from $1 million to $1.3 million, after contractor bids came in above expectations. [Sun Gazette]

APS Students Excel on Math Tests — Arlington students have performed significantly better on state mathematics tests than other Virginia students, across all grade levels. “These results reflect the hard work done in the past year by students to master the new, more challenging mathematics standards,” said Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy. “We credit students and teachers for their abilities to meet the higher expectations set by the new standards.” [Arlington Public Schools]

County Gov’t Launches New WebsiteUpdated at 10:30 a.m. — Arlington County has launched “PLACE Space,” a new “community networking” website. “PLACE Space grew out of the County Board’s Participation, Leadership and Civic Engagement (PLACE) initiative, launched in January 2012,” according to the county. “The aim of the site, which is currently in beta, is to act as a virtual town square, to foster conversation about shared issues, and to connect people, organizations and businesses from all over Arlington.” [PLACE Space]

  • Wilbur

    PLACE is not new. And its pretty lame. Why is it governments are so afraid of online dialog. Oh yeah – because they look at the comment section of ARLNOW.

    • drax

      Do you blame them?

  • Garden City

    Oh, they’re going to catch hell in the signup for PLACE. They use the term “pet owner”.

    • drax

      Be sure to let us know when that happens.

  • Two Guys and a Truck

    That’s some pretty bad project cost estimating. Just sayin.

    • CW

      Yeah. Somewhat misleading to say that the “price tag increased” when they hadn’t even gotten bids yet. If I walk into a store hoping to pay $10 for something and they sell it for $13, I wouldn’t say the price increased.

      • nauckneighbor

        I don’t think it is misleading. The taxpayers were told they would be covering a $1 million price tag, and that price tag to tax payers has now gone up to at least $1.3. I agree with Two Guys, that is some horrible cost estimating by the staff.

        • Bender

          Let’s not bash the staff too much, as if they did an unusually poor job.

          This is TYPICAL of the government, to low-ball projected expenses, especially typical of those governments which like to spend and spend and think that the people’s money is actually their money to spend as much as they please.

          They need to pay for the extra costs out of user fees, rather than force taxpayers to simply cough up the money.

          • Josh S

            I wonder if there are any other explanations for erring in the projected expenses other than conspiracy and fraud.

          • Two Guys and a Truck

            Incompetence. See it all the time.

          • Josh S

            I wonder how the ability of Arlington County’s staff to project capital project expenses compares to other local jurisdictions.

            I also wonder how the ability of Arlington County’s staff to project capital project expenses compares to various private sector firms. Of course, their work is not done under a public microscope, so we’ll never know.

          • Two Guys and a Truck

            30% under budget is bad. You won’t be working in that position very long kind of bad.

            Don’t know what you are referring to when you say various private sector firms. You mean the companies that actually do the work? Our prices are real, not some fantasy pulled out of a Means book. LOL.

          • Richard Cranium

            “Sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.”

            -Unknown

          • JohnB

            We don’t have nearly enough information to determine if there was an error in the project cost estimate because the news story leaves out key facts like what the range of expected costs were and what the confidence interval was for that range. We also don’t know what level of project definition was included in the RFP, what the assumptions were, and what was the basis of estimate for the project cost range. If the estimated project cost was $1,000,000 +/- 40% then the estimate was accurate. If the estimated project cost was $1,000,000 +/- 10% then it was inaccurate. We don’t have an answer from this because the Sun Gazette story failed to give us the pertinent facts.

          • Mario

            Yeah it’s an error. They estimated something would cost $1million. Now they find out something costs $1.3million. The Gazette article explains where the overage happened.

            Either they missed the costs, or the “something” changed. That is either bad estimating or bad process.

          • JohnB

            Mario,

            They didn’t estimate it would cost $1,000,000. They estimated it would cost between two amounts where $1,000,000 was the midpoint. That could have been $1,100,000 – $900,000 (+/- 10%) or it could have been $1,400,000 – $6,000,000 (+/- 40%). In the first case the estimate would have been inaccurate. In the second case the estimate would have been accurate. We don’t know what the range given by the estimator was so we don’t know. I’d love to know what the range was so I can make a judgement as to the competency of the procurement folks in Arlington County but I don’t have that information from the story.

          • Two Guys and a Truck

            Your math is horrible.

            Also, you don’t do estimating for a living.

          • JohnB

            There was a bit of a typo there. Should have been $1,400,000 – $600,000. Other than that I don’t see how my math is horrible.

            1,000,000 + 10% = 1,000,000 + .1*1,000,000 = 1,000,000 + 100,000 = 1,100,000

            1,000,000 – 10% = 1,000,000 – .1*1,000,000 = 1,000,000 – 100,000 = 900,000

            1,000,000 + 40% = 1,000,000 + .4*1,000,000 = 1,000,000 + 400,000 = 1,400,000

            1,000,000 – 40% = 1,000,000 – .4*1,000,000 = 1,000,000 – 400,000 = $600,000

          • Westover

            The article says right there in black and white that the cost was higher than expected. I would take that to mean it was over the estimated budget they worked up.

          • JohnB

            I generally do not accept news reports at face value because everyone has bias and constraints. The article conspicuously (in my opinion) omits a reference to the precision level of the estimate. I was suggesting to Josh S an alternative explanation of the variance other than conspiracy or fraud based on my experience and observation as he requested. My bias is that this is poor reporting because I feel I need more information. The editor/reporter could have decided that the precision level wasn’t pertinent because the variance fell outside the range and was constrained by limited page space.

          • JohnB

            Apparently a little bit of google-ing provides more information that the reporter did. I wonder if he even bothered to talk to the staff or if he just re-wrote the agenda item in condensed form.

            http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/arlington/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=8X2GTG455A8C

            This reinforces my bias about stories in the Sun Gazette.

        • CW

          No, I think we’re in agreement. I was just saying it was misleading on the County’s behalf to say the price tag went up when they’d never actually gotten quotes to begin with. Yes, they lowballed. No, I don’t think that’s right.

        • Two Guys and a Truck

          Looks like the construction cost came in close to the estimate, but design fees, etc. pushed it over. That’s bad any way you look at it.

          Either their estimate did not take into account the design and management fees (a gross oversight in project estimating), or they missed all the numbers by a wide margin.

          And they have a 2% contingency? That’s not a contingency, that’s coverage for escalation, if they are even lucky! Any need for a contingency is going to blow through that $20,000 real quick.

          Also wonder why the county votes to authorize funding based on an in-house estimate rather than real contractor pricing. They look dumb now.

          • JohnB

            http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/arlington/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=8X2GTG455A8C

            They have a 10% construction contingency and a 2% overall project contingency. Poor reporting.

          • Two Guys and a Truck

            So, an initial estimate down to 5 significant figures. That’s not abnormal, because estimators are paid to be as precise as they can. If they thought they had a 40%, or even 10% range, they would not have gone that far. See?

            So it looks like they just were wrong in their line item estimates.

    • Guy LeDouche

      Sweet, so if they similarly under-estimated the cost of the streetcar project by the same 30%, the cost over-run for that project will be a mere $75M for a total of $325M. Hope they have better people estimated that projects costs.

      • VotersForChange

        They already mis-estimated it by 55% one time. Why not keep going?

  • 281

    The new field will only have 280 seats!!! Where are all the rest of the high school softball fans going to sit??

    • yards555

      +1

    • Reality Bites

      Hmmm… that is about 200 seats that will be left unused. Perhaps they can begin the cost cutting there!

  • SOL–still out of luck

    Just received my 8th grader’s SOL results. Parents still are not provided with information to assess their children’s relative performance on the tests. My child, for example, took an advanced math class this year and received a C for the year. That means it is up to us whether he continues to the next level or repeats the class in 9th grade. Unfortunately, we have no way to measure his performance against his peers. He scored “proficient” on the SOL, but what does that mean? Among students who passed the SOL test, did he score in, say, the 50th percentile? Or the 10th? The answer to that question would help us determine the appropriate placement for him next year.

    • Josh S

      Assumes that the SOL is an accurate measurement of ability.

      Also, as a standardized test, I don’t think the best use of the test score is to compare one child to others. It’s not supposed to measure relative ability.

      Finally, even if it did provide percentile scores, that would be comparing your child to every other child to took the test in the entire state. I’m not sure if that is a relevant representation of who his/her peers actually are.

      • SOL–still out of luck

        Regarding what the SOL measures: IMO, the SOL algebra I test is a reasonable assessment of a student’s grasp of the concepts of algebra I.

        Regarding ability: The SOL is not an IQ test, and so no one should be looking to it to assess anyone’s “ability.” I’m not interested in my child’s relative “ability.” In fact, I am quite confident that he is able to learn algebra. What I’m interested in is how his current grasp of the material compares to others from his middle school who will (likely) be going on to algebra II in 9th grade at the same high school. If his base of knowledge is much lower than his peers (for whatever reason), then it makes sense to have him repeat the class. If instead he is pretty average, then we won’t worry about him being completely lost at the next level. The letter grade he received in the class (since it’s not scaled, neither within his class nor across all the students at the same level) doesn’t provide me with this information.

        Each school gets their own scores; each county gets their own scores. On-line, you can see the percentage of children who scored “advanced” vs “proficient” by state, county, and school. It would be easy to provide a percentile break-out for these three groups. There is simply no reason not to furnish this information to the students/parents themselves.

        • C

          And his previous math teacher says? The SOL will give a snap shot of what the child knows. I would think the teacher, having worked with him over the course of the year, should be able to state if he is ready for the next level.

    • NoVapologist

      It seems that relative metrics have largely been done away with because of fears that little Johnny will be scarred for life if he has to face the fact that he is not as smart as little Jimmy.

  • Wayne Kubicki

    The Gazette headline on the math test story says “APS Officials Say They’re Pleased.”

    On average, 22% of students didn’t pass the standardized tests.

    Makes one wonder what kind of results it would take for APS officials to not be pleased, doesn’t it?

  • Homeowner

    I don’t get it. The County presser says, “Arlington students have performed significantly better on state mathematics tests than other Virginia students, across all grade levels.”

    Yet their chart indicates that the 7th grade pass level for both is 58%. What gives?

    • dk (not DK)

      Later on in the press release, it says “all school levels—elementary, middle, and high.” Perhaps that it what they meant when they said “all grade levels.”

      In Arlington, a fair number of the kids taking 7th-grade level math are actually in 6th grade. I wonder if the 6th graders taking 7th grade math take the 7th grade SOL or the 6th grade SOL?

      • C

        After elementary school, you take the SOL which reflects the course you are in.

  • Whatthe

    Why do we need a dedicated softball field!? Why can’t they use the existing baseball fields like every other high school on the planet.

  • Kathy

    re A 24-year-old Arlington man was arrested last week and charged with strangling and assaulting his pregnant ex-girlfriend in the affluent Woodmont neighborhood of Arlington.

    Why “affluent” neighborhood? Why not just “in the Woodmont neighborhood of Arlington? What word would you use to describe a less affluent neighborhood?

    • NoVapologist

      “What word would you use to describe a less affluent neighborhood?”

      South

    • Because it is notably so

      Probably to draw a contrast between the refinement of the neighborhood and the brutality of this Patrick Bateman-like character.

      Woodmont is not only affluent, it’s REALLY affluent. Check out Zillow or Google satellite. Most homes are well over $1 million and several have pools and/or a tennis court.

      • disappear here

        Did somebody just discover Bret Easton Ellis or something? Summertime reading assignment from high school?

  • bobbytiger

    Only $1.3 million? Surely the County Board can gouge us for more.

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