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?
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.