New-school crystal ball
One recent Monday morning I sat in my office reading a batch of particularly dreadful e-mails I received in response to a particularly controversial column I had submitted the Friday before. They contained the usual comments about my lack of intelligence, not-subtle hints that my weak command of the English language had caused it to commit mutiny on me, and suggestions for curing simple chronic halitosis from spewing BS.Discouraged, I looked around my office and felt all of the pressures of my own mediocrity descending upon me. The dusty books and shopworn plaques proclaiming my educational and professional accomplishments appeared dull and meaningless under this new light. I needed to add something that would give me an air of worldliness, proof that I was indeed a man of culture and knowledge. Then, just like that, I knew what it was!I grabbed my coat hastily and raced excitedly towards the Thrift Shop to look for a globe to place on my desk. I was waylaid only briefly at Zélé by the temptation of a couple of cups of coffee.The selection at the “store” was not great. In fact, there was only one small globe in stock, and I was informed by the “salesperson” that their vendors were unpredictable and the next shipment of globes could not be foreseen. Although it was only the size of a bowling ball, and weighed nearly as much, too, I decided to take it. Making sure to get a receipt to avoid the possibility of being Tasered by local law enforcement agents on my way out, I happily returned to my own vein in the proverbial salt mine.Back behind my desk, I tested my globe by playing the familiar game of “Where in the World Would I Rather Be Right Now?” I gave the mounted sphere a mighty spin, shut my eyes, and jabbed a ballpoint pen into its bluish skin. I opened my eyes to find a chip of paint representing a large chunk of the former USSR resting on my workspace.”Cheap piece of junk,” I thought, and proceeded to examine my receipt for the return policy. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the area from which I had inadvertently extracted the land mass was translucent. Shock and horror followed as I realized that this was my old crystal ball that I had painted to look like a bowling ball so as to pass it off on some unsuspecting fool, and currently realizing that that person had painted it to look like a globe to pass it off on an even bigger unsuspecting fool!My loyal reader knows about this pain made of glass. It’s the same crystal ball that augured the sale of the Hotel Jerome a year ago (and its transformation into timeshares that’s still coming) and laid out the intentions of evil developers’ plans for converting our local fire station into a shopping mall this spring.It’s a truly frightening device! I knew better than to gaze into it, but I couldn’t resist. I chipped away a few more countries with a straightened paper clip to get a better look. It was the most shocking presage yet!Our new middle school is over budget. Way over budget! This revelation does not come at a time when the project is nearing completion, either. The project has only just broken ground, and the crystal ball says that overruns are already estimated at 35 to 45 percent!While crystal balls are not known for mathematical acumen, mine says that unanticipated costs could total well over $10 million!”You’ve got to be kidding!” I exclaimed and was instantly scolded by the crystal ball for even suggesting that it might not be taking its occupation seriously. After apologizing, I asked where the funding would come from to make up the difference between the $33 million in bonding the voters approved for the fabulous new school and the additional costs now predicted.The crystal ball believes that some of the shortfall will have to be made up through increasing out-of-district enrollment and collecting the additional state subsidies for each new student. The promises of the school board and superintendent to never do this will be broken.I sheepishly pointed out that these paltry subsidies wouldn’t go far in covering overruns measured in terms of eight digits.The ball gazed back mockingly as if to say, “of course not, you idiot.” Since the amount of money that the school district can spend has been fixed by the voters, the budget increases will have to be addressed mainly by cutbacks. It invited me to look closer.Already gone at this stage are improvements to the District Theatre that were promised to myriad local arts groups in exchange for their support in last fall’s election. There are cuts to the concession stand, additional seating, and other amenities at the sports field that were offered as enticements to athletic supporters, as well.But, that wasn’t the worst of it. I got a virtual tour of the building itself. While it looked fairly sparse throughout, it at least appeared functional … until we got to the third floor. That was unbelievable! The entire top floor was unfinished! The money had run out. It was only a shell, completely unusable. The very floor was gravel!”Gravel?” I asked, disbelieving.The crystal ball informed me that it’s necessary to maintain the mass of the building for efficient heating and cooling of the two functional floors below. Concrete was too expensive.In all, we are going to end up with a much smaller school with far fewer amenities and many more students attending it. Haste in pushing this project through will end up in incredible waste.Horrified, I heaved the crystal ball out the window and into the back of a city construction vehicle passing through the alley beneath my office. You may take this to mean I am scared about this harbinger of doom. Not in the least. I am disgusted because the ball only told me things I had already guessed.Roger Marolt was old school in believing that more time should have been taken in studying costs for the new middle school. Build him up or tear him down at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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