State Architect's Corner
The Challenges of Change – A Message from the Acting State Architect
By definition, when someone is said to be acting in a position it means that the person is occupying the position temporarily to ensure continuity of leadership. While the designation may be temporary, as Acting State Architect, I am committed to leading this organization into 2019. I can assure you that the progressive Division of the State Architect (DSA) you have come to know is the progressive DSA you will continue to experience. We’ve worked hard to be transparent, open and honest with our staff and clients, and it is with transparency and honesty that I share with you this message.
Over the past several years former State Architect Chester Widom, FAIA, made it a priority to improve the services DSA provides to the school districts and the professionals who design and build school facilities. He pushed us to think differently, try harder, do better, and to not be afraid of change. Undeniably the most significant change has been the move from our 119-year-old paper review process to our Electronic Plan Review (EPR) process. Some view this change as having created more challenges; however, I disagree. I see it as only having created more opportunities, and I am not alone. During this year’s Coalition for Adequate School Housing conference, DSA heard praise from both design professionals and school districts alike for the migration to EPR.
DSA anticipated that the transition to EPR would be significant for our staff and the staff of the architectural and engineering (A&E) firms that submit projects to us. We anticipated that there would be a learning curve associated with the change, which would result in a delay in plan review time. To prepare for this, DSA received additional funding for new positions. Even with the additional staff, we estimate that plan review time has increased by 10 to 15 percent during this transition and we are working diligently to fine-tune the established protocols and systems to further streamline the process to keep plan review time as low as possible.
Earlier this year, we lowered our fees to keep our operating reserves at a reasonable level. DSA also requested and received a current year budget augmentation to keep pace with the number of projects submitted for review. We also submitted a two-year budget augmentation request to the legislature as part of the budget process to increase our funding for the next two years as we anticipate the workload we are seeing now to continue into the future. The Assembly has already approved that funding request and the Senate will take action on it later this spring.
DSA will continue to work with partners within the administration and legislature to ensure that we remain appropriately funded and staffed to meet the demands of our stakeholders. At the same time, we remain committed to being good stewards of the fee revenue we collect and carefully managing our operations. Until the budget request to the legislature is completely approved, DSA will continue to closely monitor expenses. To ensure budgetary concerns have minimal impact on timeliness of review, we have adjusted the project delivery processes to prioritize and accommodate the influx of summer projects.
Any potential delay related to staffing and budgetary concerns is transitory and resolution is forthcoming. The delay related to EPR is also temporary, but necessary to be sustainable and collaborative. So how can you help minimize the challenges we face? Of our school district clients, we ask that you continue to be supportive of DSA as we complete transition to EPR. Of the A&E community, we ask that you demonstrate your commitment to the EPR process by providing DSA with documentation that is comprehensive, complete and ready for review. Each plan set submitted that is incomplete causes delay for others. If you anticipate not being completely ready for your upcoming submittal appointment, please reschedule in advance. Your honesty with the completeness of your work will facilitate a timely review process for all clients. We also ask that you be patient and respectful of the DSA staff as we manage these challenges and continue to deliver quality customer service to our clients.
Change is never easy, and inevitably challenges arise that require us to demonstrate our grit. We have demonstrated in the past that change improves delivery of services, and that DSA succeeds when challenged to do better. I ask for your patience as we accept this challenge and look forward to continued growth and success into 2019.
Ida A. Clair, AIA
Acting State Architect