Cold Weather, Property Mismanagement and Corruption

The extreme cold in Boston in recent days and situation of the$20 million debacle at St. Cecilia in Boston made BCI think about a few things relevant to all Catholics in Boston–especially pastors–as relates to property management or mismanagement, waste, and corruption. We also wonder how the archdiocese plans to deal with what is rumored to be about $500 million or more in deferred maintenance needs on 800-1000 buildings across the archdiocese.

Waste/Neglect in Heating and Utilities

As we look at our own heating oil bill and hear the old oil burner running nearly around the clock, it occurs to us that the archdiocese is not very proactive about helping parishes and schools make their heating operations more efficient.  Better said, the archdiocese is bordering on negligent in many cases. 

At one time, there used to be around 4 property management people working for the archdicoese–one for each region–who helped parishes and schools more effectively and efficiently manage property-related issues.  By and large, these were people who knew something about heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), maybe through service in the Navy or other branch of the military, or training in some type of engineering program or at the likes of a maritime academy. With some 800-1000 aging buildings, such a resource is almost a necessity. But under the current Chancellor, most of those people were pushed out–some upon reaching retirement age, some for other reasons–and never replaced. Today we have two people. And it is not clear if the current team is of the skillset and inclination to get their hands dirty and go into dark, dirty, boiler rooms to help diagnose and fix issues.

A mother was recently in the classroom of her child at a Boston archdiocesan Catholic school and noticed a window open near her child in the dead of winter. Why?  Turns out that the school cannot sufficiently regulate the heat in the entire school, so when the room gets too hot, the teacher opens a window.  How many other Catholic schools and parishes face this problem of heat pouring out windows due to older systems?  Anyone wondering why BCI keeps talking about wasteful spending?

A look at parish annual reports shows that  several spent in the range of about $67,000 on “heat and utilities” in their last fiscal year on $1.04-1.07M in total parish expenses, or about 6.7% of revenues.  What if that $67,000 could be reduced by just 5% in that parish?  What if that same savings could apply across 290 parishes?   Who is thinking about this besides BCI?

How do parishes and schools know whether a 60-80 year-old oil burner has become so inefficient that it would be a worthwhile investment to replace it with a high-efficiency oil burner or convert to gas heat?  How long would the payback time be for such a capital investment?

Does the Chancellor’s property management team understand the difference between inspecting a boiler for safety (done annually) vs inspecting/evaluating a boiler and heating system for energy efficiency?

Delayed Maintenance of Properties

Back in the parish reconfiguration efforts of 2004-2006, we are told that the topic came up at least a few times of how to deal with approximately $500 million in deferred maintenance needed for church buildings and schools that would remain open after reconfiguration.  At one time, there was even discussion of a fund being established to help handle emergency repairs for remaining facilities.  Was any of that deferred maintenance ever done or planned for? Was a proper department created and funded to proactively handle these issues?  Or has the deferred maintenance just been deferred further into the future, left for each parish to individually cope with when the roof starts leaking water into the sanctuary, someone falls on the crumbling concrete steps, or the boiler breaks down and breathes its last?

Corruption?

We are still wondering how prices in general for parish work get so high between when the project is first conceived and priced locally and when it comes back with a preferred vendor from the archdiocese. 

As we asked previously, why are only a small number of contractors allowed to bid on significant construction in parishes?  And why are parishes not allowed more freedom to determine which firms they wish to use if the firm is established, competent and reputable?  Why are some vendors “in the Rolodex” and other vendors and contractors with solid credentials and references kept “off the Rolodex”?

Did anyone ever ask a contractor to reward someone who awarded the contract, or expect such a reward? Has there ever been a time when the personal gain of anyone in the central administration was tied to who they approved to receive large contracts?  This is not just for construction, but also for other large ticket items like network installation in schools, and other such deals.

Did anyone in past years, or has anyone recently taken some percentage back on real estate deals?  How about on maintenance deals or construction projects? 

Who is auditing the St. Cecilia project?  Has no one–absolutely no one–benefited personally by the $20M in contracting costs? 

Have contractors ever been expected to do work for free (eg. at someone’s home) for anyone who works at 66 Brooks Drive as an incentive or reward for a significant contract for hire?

Just questions to ask and things to consider as we brave the cold weather and try to learn from the $20M debacle at St. Cecilia’s. 

Stay warm.

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5 Responses to Cold Weather, Property Mismanagement and Corruption

  1. Reluctant Donor says:

    FWIW, I lost my oil burner (and lots more) in the severe floods in these parts last March. A friend in the business was able to replace the burner with a high efficiency model. Obama/FEMA paid for it after the area was declared a disaster area. I’ve gone from getting oil 5-7 times a year to just twice this year, even with the extreme conditions. There is much to be said for the new, energy efficient equipment.

  2. Fr. D says:

    FINALLY, a topic near and dear to my heart. I am not a priest of the archdiocese, but brought to the priesthood experiences beyond the usual and feel that I can clarify a lot of what has been said in this posting, as well as shed light on deficiencies I see in seminary training.

    First, Seminary training. Why not start at the beginning. Many people do not realize that there is a grand total of ZERO business training provided in seminary training, not even anything as rudimentary as balancing a check book. Nothing at all. In the olden days, a “curate” learned these things by being just that, a curate for 20 years. Now, its closer to 3 years and the lessens of business are not being learned. That is to say, learning through small errors not to repeat them when given larger charges.

    My own method of management of a parish is a simple one, spend it like its your own. To some degree it is, as I also maintain a parish budget and contribute to the good of the parish. How can you ask parishioners to step up to the plate when you yourself are not? I always lead by example.

    Onto the posting itself. “that the archdiocese is not very proactive about helping parishes and schools make their heating operations more efficient.” This is difficult to achieve in older building (churches and schools). Positive things can be done in converting the burner to gas consumption rather that oil (the burner, not the boiler itself). Savings will be achieved here. Another thing I have found is that keeping water levels in the boiler (steam heat)lower produces heat quicker, but does require monitoring. Also, insulate, insulate, insulate. It is relatively inexpensive, with a quick payback. Replace the boiler only if efficiency is ridiculously low, otherwise, the payback is not there. Wait for it to die, and then do it then.

    “noticed a window open near her child in the dead of winter. Why? Turns out that the school cannot sufficiently regulate the heat in the entire school” This is not as cut and dry as has been portrayed. We are most likely discussing steam heat again here and steam systems require steam zones to control parts of the school (floor by floor). These are unbelievable expensive and are a thing of the past. Nearly impossible to repair and tend to rust up during the summer when they do not open or close.
    A better choice would be to measure the heating needs on a floor by floor basis and install smaller boilers for the one “zone” with a thermostat centrally located to control it. Other than that, heat anticipators (low cost) can be installed to lower costs by turning off the system before a temp is achieved in the realization that there is enough heat to accomplish the job already produced and is on its way.

    “How do parishes and schools know whether a 60-80 year-old oil burner has become so inefficient that it would be a worthwhile investment to replace it with a high-efficiency oil burner or convert to gas heat?” Again, changing the burner to burn gas over oil is an excellent way to save some money, but the conversion process can be thousands, but is worth it.

    “How do parishes and schools know whether a 60-80 year-old oil burner has become so inefficient that it would be a worthwhile investment to replace it with a high-efficiency oil burner or convert to gas heat? How long would the payback time be for such a capital investment? Again, the payback is not there unless it is horrible. Controls, on the other hand, are low cost and can save you money. Sometimes, it is our of complete stupidity that money is thrown away. When I arrived at my parish, I fund the thermostat on a outside wall. I had it rewired to an interior wall, some 8 feet away to achieve balanced heat.

    “We are still wondering how prices in general for parish work get so high between when the project is first conceived and priced locally and when it comes back with a preferred vendor from the archdiocese.” This is a very difficult thing to discuss, as it is not as easy as it is presented. Large, million or multi-million dollar project require the ability for the contractor to secure a bond for the work (against default or workmanship). Smaller (less expensive) contractors cannot get this, and as a result, we have the larger contractors securing most work being done. Why the over-run, time and time again? Because the contract secured is not for construction, but for construction management (actual cost of construction plus the fee for management). It is the fee that is bid, while the actual costs vary with a projection to costs (which increase the further the project goes out). It is far better to divide huge projects into much smaller ones and accomplish them, with true binding contracts, one piece at a time.

    “Did anyone in past years, or has anyone recently taken some percentage back on real estate deals? How about on maintenance deals or construction projects?” Kick-backs? You have to be kidding. We are talking Boston aren’t we? It reminds me of my window replacement project. I secured 9 quotes, ranging from $38,000 to $12,000 for the same project, relatively the same windows. I was invited to the shop of the $38,000 guy where there was a huge bar, full buffet and promises of dining gift cards a plenty..nod,nod…wink, wink. The work was done for $15,500. Father cannot be bought that cheap, nor sleep with myself after cheating the people of God.

    Finally.

    To Reluctant Donor “Obama/FEMA paid for it after the area was declared a disaster area.” We ALL paid for it my friend through taxation. Santa passed away some time ago.

    Word of wisdom to all Pastors…spend it like its your own and you will never go too far a field.

  3. Quality Guy says:

    the unaswered questions at the end of the orignal posting concerning ‘kick-backs’ etc. are very speculative ! Yes, his is Boston and we all have seen many instances of public chicanery in the area of conasturcion over the yers. And , yes, there are many versions of ‘incentives’ for doing business with the public’s $$. [ N.B. , I see Mr. Turner has joined the ranks of other public officals ] BUT, this faithfull Catholic hopes that the IMPLIED improprieties are few and far between in the Boston Archdiocese. I think rather than raising such questions without substantiation are less effective at communicating the many problems facing our community, the BCI should expend its energies at reporting on the [ too many !! ] actual issues.
    Sorry Jim F. that’s how I feel.
    Keep up the great work you are doing.
    Rememebr that famous mantra,
    ‘Carborundum Non Illegtimi Est”
    [ I think I rememebered the phrase correctly, but then Sr. Regis of the SSJ has earned her eternal rewards long ago for trying her best to teach us Latin at Matignon High School !!

  4. Quality Guy says:

    further to my last post, please excuse the typos ! I really do know how to spell thanks to the 12 years of the good Sisters of St. Joseph, BUT I never took the ‘Business Course at MHS,
    [Chagrin !!! ]

  5. Quality Guy,
    Thanks for your message. Valid feedback on the post. Hopefully by now you and others have come to realize that we often pose questions in order to help people think about these issues or to encourage the archdiocese to act on the issue before we have to embarrass people into doing the right thing by naming names. But we do not pose these questions willy nilly without good reason for posing them. You may recall that we asked multiple times in the summer about whether a candidate had already been selected for the Secretary of Institutional Advancement role and whether it truly was an “open search”–and we gave the archdiocese a chance to respond many times before we said “the fix is in” and named the person who had been pre-chosen for the job before the search was announced.

    So, when we pose questions like this, hopefully readers realize that dollars to donuts we already have good reason to know the answer but just may not explicitly publish additional information at that time.

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