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Detroit Makes Gains on $1.5 Billion Building Plan

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The Detroit public schools have hired two companies to undertake the first stage of the massive $1.5 billion school renovation and construction project approved by voters in 1994.

The school board voted 9-2 last week to hire two Detroit-based, minority-owned companies as managers for the first third of the overall project to refurbish the district's aging schools. The project also won approval from the state treasurer for an initial allocation of $89 million.

Construction should begin this spring, said district spokesman Steve Wasko. The presence of construction workers at the city's schools should be a welcome sight to the parents and school officials who lobbied for passage of the 1994 referendum, which set a record nationwide as the largest school-bond measure ever passed. (See Education Week, Nov. 16, 1994.)

"As parents, we are delighted that we are finally seeing something really happening," said Dolores Smith, the president of the City Wide School Community Organization, an umbrella organization of local parents' groups. Ms. Smith also chaired the $1.5 Billion Bond Committee, which campaigned for the referendum.

The first stages of work will center around health and safety concerns, including asbestos removal and improvements that are needed to make existing buildings accessible to people with disabilities.

"These are things that have to be done because they've been told so by the state," Ms. Smith said.

'Bursting at the Seams'

The overall plan approved by voters includes the eventual construction of four new elementary schools, four replacement elementary school buildings, two high schools, and four 9th-grade academies, as well as renovations to all the district's 261 schools.

The average age of schools in Detroit is now about 60 years, and schools in the northeast and northwest parts are seriously overcrowded, Mr. Wasko said.

"The board is very anxious to move forward," school board President Irma Clark said last week. "We have aging schools that are falling around us and others that are bursting at the seams."

To oversee the first phase of construction, the board choose M2 International Inc. and A MAC Sales & Builders Inc. Although a final agreement has not been reached, Mr. Wasko said program managers generally receive from 2 percent to 4 percent of the total cost of work.

"We were hoping that it would be a company in Detroit so it would help economic growth and they could hire local people," Ms. Smith said.

Construction of the new buildings will not begin this year and may not start in 1997, Mr. Wasko said.

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