Fenty Picks Veteran Of Public Projects To Upgrade Schools

Allen Y. Lew, chief of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, is known for on-time, on-budget work.
Allen Y. Lew, chief of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, is known for on-time, on-budget work. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2007

Allen Y. Lew, who managed construction of the Washington Convention Center and is overseeing completion of the Nationals baseball stadium, has agreed to become the director of a new city department created to carry out the D.C. public school system's $2.3 billion modernization program, government sources confirmed yesterday.

Lew, 56, has served as chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission since 2004 and is respected by city leaders for his ability to deliver large, complicated public construction projects on time and on budget. He is expected to resign from his position at the sports commission next month to join Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration, the sources said.

Fenty (D) has been courting Lew for weeks to take control of the effort to renovate the city's 141 public schools, many of which are plagued with leaky roofs, broken plumbing, cracked windows, and outdated labs and athletic facilities. City officials have said that repairs have been slowed by bureaucracy, with work orders getting lost in a maze of complicated paperwork, procurement rules and permit problems.

Lew would be charged with creating and managing the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization. Although the mayor and the council would have ultimate oversight of the $2.3 billion capital budget, Lew and his staff would be responsible for spending the money, entering into contracts with construction firms and ensuring that the school system's Master Facilities Plan, created largely by Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, is carried out.

Lew's departure from the sports commission would come less than a year before the publicly funded $611 million stadium is scheduled to open near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street in Southeast. Fenty aides are courting a potential replacement for Lew, the sources said, without providing details.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) praised Lew but voiced concern about the fate of the stadium project. The ballpark's high public cost could rise further if it is not completed on time because penalties would be owed to the team owners.

"Do you want to take the main guy out of the picture, the guy who is able to get it done on time and on budget on opening day?" Evans said. "If you take him out of it, who will replace him? Getting the stadium done is not automatic."

Lew is paid $250,000 per year at the sports commission and would make about the same in his new job, the sources said. His hiring, which could be formally announced today, comes the same week as Fenty's nomination of Michelle A. Rhee as his schools chancellor, replacing Janey. Both appointments require confirmation by the D.C. Council.

It is unclear whether Fenty, who has been criticized for failing to include other city officials and parents in his selection of Rhee, informed anyone outside his administration about choosing Lew.

Lew declined to comment.

Under the legislation that gave Fenty control of the school system, Lew would be given special authority to circumvent some restrictive procurement and permit rules. However, all school construction contracts worth more than $1 million would require council approval, as per city law.

Day-to-day school maintenance, including janitorial services, would remain under the supervision of Rhee. Lew would not be a school system employee and would report directly to the mayor, the sources said.

Parent activists cautioned that renovating schools is not the same as building an office or stadium because schools must be tailored to the academic needs of students. For example, does the school need additional area for computers or more open space for group projects?

"It's not just a technical thing of knowing how to build a building and get it done," said Marc Borbely, an activist who worked with Fenty when he was on the council to get the school modernization fund approved. "To build a school, something has to be tailored to what the school community wants and needs. It's a really different process of designing, and that's a concern."

The Master Facilities Plan outlines the process for the construction program and lists priorities. The school system has received the first installment of the modernization money to break ground on H.D. Cooke Elementary: about $160 million. The school board and the council have approved the contracts for Wheatley Elementary, Phelps Career Senior High School and Alice Deal Junior High, and construction at the three schools will start in the summer and is slated to be completed in 2009.

The school system also has embarked on a "blitz" repair program at 33 schools after several boilers broke down in the winter. And this week, Fenty met with more than 40 developers to launch a "buff and scrub" program in which the developers will be asked to contribute $10,000 apiece in labor costs to upgrade schools over the summer.

Staff writers Alan Goldenbach and Theola Labbé contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company