A new path

So I tried to run a bit from it, but it looks like the inevitable will still find you, one way or another.

Well, that perspective, now that I write it down, probably has rubbed off on me from reading too many of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas novels over the past few weeks.  In it, the character has some clairvoyance to him – he can see dead people.  Its been done before (a lot), but in this case, as with most writing that I enjoy, his perspective on life is the reward for spending my time reading these books.  One recurring theme is this: everything has a natural order to it.  Even with his “supernatural” skills, he has learned that trying to trick fate into doing something else typically just postpones it at best.

Several months ago, I decided to strike out on my own… but then I didn’t.  I got an offer to come on with another firm – they let me finish some projects that I had already started on the side, and all was supposed to be good…

But of course, it wasn’t.  I know it is always typical when someone woos somebody on with promises that not everything is delivered… but it turned out rather quickly that the situation we cooked up did not fit.  So this week, we adjusted that.

The adjustment is this: I can now fully pursue what I want.  This has effectively let me start off on my own.  I still office with them, I still work with them.  I will maintain key clients.  But, I have more than I want to do than pure architecture, and in order to follow those dreams, I have to go off and do this – if anything, just for me.

It’s a little scary.  I have enough work to pay my bills, but of course your perspective changes very much so  going off on your own – your outlook changed from 3 months ahead to 3 years.  There is plenty to be nervous about, but plenty to be happy about.

So what do I want to do?   I want to develop.  And I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.  I’ve made my first multifamily acquisition already, but will be looking to build some small for-rent and/or sale product.  I have big dreams of other projects; some might be what I might call “game changers” in the market here in Dallas.  But… One has to keep their sights.  Even though I am an architect, broker, and I have built my own designs before as a general contractor, the stigma of being an architect is a hard one to overcome – especially when starting off of on my own.  So, after some soul searching, I have decided to start small.

I figure this – if I can make a living designing small projects, I can make a living developing small projects.  And move forward from there.  I might take on partners, but…  I’m not making that a barrier to going ahead and starting.

So, there you have it.  My official launch date will be September 1, 2013.

To new days ahead.

 

Sun rises over ruins a few hours outside of Mexico City.  I took this picture nearly two years ago, and it was about that time I was starting to find some purpose in what I wanted to do.

Sun rises over a small town and some ruins a few hours outside of Mexico City. I took this picture nearly two years ago, and it was about that time I was starting to find some purpose in what I wanted to do.

DISD Elections

This is not a blog about DISD.  I was in fact thinking of how I should write more today, but came up blank.  THis email from Dallas Kids First, however, was in my email inbox (from last week) and I thought it was worth posting.  Hopefully I can remember to be slightly more active with this site…  We shall see.

Regardless, if you live in DISD, please vote in the elections next week.  Why?  See below.

Friends — The Dallas public school system is embarrassingly deficient, and although most of us care a lot about great public schools, it’s hard to know how to plug in and make a meaningful difference. I’ve learned a lot about DISD over the last year or so, and I thought you’d want to know about three specific opportunities that are easy to fulfill, timely and actionable. They give us all a chance to play a meaningful role in the progress that’s about to sweep over Dallas, and I hope you take advantage of them.

Why get involved?

…some “lessons learned” about the Dallas public school system.

1) The stakes are high

The future of Dallas depends on our ability to generate productive graduates, and there’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that we are failing miserably. Only 10% of DISD’s students are college-ready, and with an average SAT score in the mid 800s (bottom 25% of all U.S. test takers), we simply aren’t generating the human capital needed to compete against other cities. Dallas ISD significantly underperfoms other Texas districts like Houston, Austin, El Paso, etc. And more importantly, low-income kids in Dallas are trapped in our worst schools. Dallas ISD has some “pockets of strength”, but we can’t hide behind a few bright stars. As a community, we can do better.

2) You can add a ton of value

Many of the anchors in the Dallas ISD debate are woefully inadequate. I’ve interviewed every person running for school board right now, and there are huge opportunities to increase the caliber of people on our board. Want an example? Bruce Parrott has been on the board for three years, hasn’t sponsored a single student-related policy, can’t remember much less explain why he has consistently supported the status quo, and has conflicting positions on key board issues like staffing and evaluation. Check out his voting history: http://www.dallaskidsfirst.org/uploads/9/2/0/2/9202227/supplemental-and-source-material-d3-2012.pdf  Another candidate, Damarcas Offord, is a 20 year old who’s never had a job and has consistently refused to explain or even outline any positions on school board issues. Wouldn’t be a big deal if both candidates weren’t endorsed by the largest teacher ‘union’ in Dallas, but they are, and each of them has a decent chance of winning with only 1% voter turnout and margins of victory often around 200 votes. My point is: Reasonable people who genuinely care about the future of Dallas and the kids that live in our city can make a huge difference. By taking easy steps like the ones outlined below, we can show these people that the stakes are too high to allow Dallas ISD to be a sideshow.

3) Most important: DISD’s problems are solvable

Dallas ISD is a tough place to work. No wonder it’s hard to get great staff members to stay. Want to know why? There’s no functioning human resources department. What organization with 20,000 staff members can function without an HR department? And since there’s no functioning HR department, great teachers and principals aren’t rewarded, promoted or developed. Poor teachers and principals aren’t developed either, and it can be difficult to get them out of a district since our evaluation system is a total joke. Ask any DISD teacher about their last PDAS.

This is just one example of how broken fundamentals are incredibly obvious to anyone who’s genuinely trying to solve problems.We’ve made a lot of progress recently thanks to a handful of great board members and an effective interim superintendent. All signs suggest that the new superintendent is a rock star who will drive progress in areas like HR, but it’s important for all of us to appreciate that our issues are totally fixable. This isn’t a hopeless situation. DISD can consistently generate students who are ready for college and/or the workforce, but it’ll take a community that demands more and some good leaders.

Opportunities to get involved…

1) Vote in the election next weekend

If you live east of White Rock, in Downtown, South Dallas or North Dallas, please take 15 minutes to vote in the Dallas ISD school board race next Saturday (May 12). DallasKidsFirst has summarized and scored the candidates based on their voting records, interviews, etc. to make it easy to quickly get up to speed on who’s running, what they stand for, and if they’re good or bad.  http://www.dallaskidsfirst.org/disd-board-election-packets-and-candidate-scorecards.html

2) Come to tomorrow’s canvassing event (see attached flyer)

A big group will be walking in East Dallas neighborhoods tomorrow to “get out the vote”. If enough people come, there will be a drawing for a free ipad, followed by an after party at Good Friends. …a perfect opportunity to get a lot of mileage out of a Saturday morning.

3) Help us raise awareness through social media and email buzz

Like, follow, share and comment on DKF’s activities to increase awareness across Dallas.

https://www.facebook.com/DallasKidsFirst

http://dallaskidsfirst.tumblr.com/

https://twitter.com/#!/DallasKidsFirst

All three of these opportunities are extremely easy and would require minimal effort and resources. I’d love to plug you into deeper opportunities if you have the time, energy, passion, money, etc. but regardless, I hope you’ll consider taking advantage of the three opportunities above.

From the outside looking in: DISD

I have never met someone who does not hold the belief that education and success are directly related to each other.  Take that a step further: an educated population is successful… Therefore grows in sustainable ways, nurtures, and takes care of itself.  The largest surges of progress in mankind have been the products of a new level of education for the population.  You would think, in that context, that education of the population would be a priority as a civilization.

Last week I had the opportunity to take a look at the Dallas public education system.  As far as quality of life goes, the biggest problem with Dallas itself is the school system.  Around here, if one has a choice, I see typically people do one of two things: move to the suburbs or choose private school (or both).

Issues with the school district seem vey amorphous. The city government has no bearing on the school districts (however, in this afternoon’s city council meeting, they proved they have reaching arms in zoning and other secondary means); the district receives funding from all levels of government, but remains pretty much autonomous.  Term “Independent School District” really is true.  The leadership is made up of elected officials called trustees.  Each of those trustees manages a number of schools based on their district.  Other than meeting set levels by the state, that’s pretty much it on the oversight of the school district.  I’m oversimplifying, but that’s not the point of this post anyway.

We saw two schools of the extreme opposite, but two that are headed in the right direction.  One extreme was an urban school with strong leadership.  The principal had made numerous changes that would be simple in the private world: identify a problem (soda and candy machines causing problems in the hallway), and fix it (remove them!). This practice filters down to the staffing of the school – she kept only the better teachers, weeding out the ineffective ones.  The result?  Grades are up.  Test scores are up.  Morale is up.  The students like being there – in fact, they treat the school as a safe haven for what goes on around them.  The district gives the principal so much control over a school that they have the ability to make a real difference.  That’s great – when you have a great principal.

The other school we visited was an elementary school nestled in a more upscale area of Dallas.  This school is nationally recognized and has made a huge turn around in the past five years under the direction of their principal.

Click on the image for some interesting statistics.

The main difference between the schools was this – the elementary school had great support of the parents.  The leadership of their PTA actually came to talk to us!  Again and again, the point was proven that the school did well because of the parental support.  Budget gaps were being mitigated through parent volunteers, needs were met by reaching out to parents through email and social media, and the group in front of us were dedicated to the education of their children, which showed in the pride of their school.  The high school, on the other hand, was turning around despite the lack of support of the parents.  During the principal’s presentation there, she made no mention of parents (other than the fact that many of her students were being raised by grandparents).  As a matter of fact, she repeated the point that the school was a “safe haven” for the kids.  You could tell by her demeanor she was doing a lot more heavy lifting than the elementary school leadership.

A trustee member came and spoke to us as well; I had met her a few years earlier when she had applied for a grant for a summer school program she leads.  She drove the parent support factor home to me during that first interview.  She told me a few stories of how clueless the parents were about how to simply behave around their kids, much less support them In school.  One story that stuck in my mind was her having to tell parents, as they were dropping off their kids to a summer program – “hey!  Don’t smoke weed in front of your kid!”.   Quite a big contrast from the PTA group we met at the elementary school.

Click for notes on the search for a new superintendent (also source).

The trustee discussed some of these issues from her side of things.  Unfortunately, her primary issues revolved around budgets.  Again she would circle back to the kids, and her main task at hand was dealing with a dwindling population (people are fleeing the school district for the ‘burbs), heavy overhead, lower local tax revenue and lower support from the state and federal levels.  This will involve closing schools in certain areas of Dallas, which unfortunately makes sense – the population of south Dallas has dwindled 5% in as many years. She said the district had done it before, and maintained the schools until the population rebounds.  However, huge emotional issues arise with mothballing schools, and the district is running into public pushback for such actions.  However, even by saving $10 Million per year closing these schools (the cost of each child in a low population school rises exponentially), they are still dealing with a $30 Million shortfall all while trying to maintain their current programs and services.  They are still quite far from closing that gap.

We touched on bilingual education as well.  Apparently, the state gives more funding per student for a bilingual education; however this education does not prepare kids for college at all.  In an entrance survey, a parent has to check a box for their “home language.” if that box is checked anything but English, off they go onto a different track, one the school is incentivized to use since the state provides so much more funding.  However, the trustee brought up a great point: the SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCAT…  they’re in English. Putting children down a non-English path does simply not prepare the child for college.

The school district is supposed to do something that seems fairly obvious: focus on the child.  Recently DISD has made many changes that are apparently considered “anti-teacher” but seem fairly obvious to me, such as trying to change compensation from seniority (how long have you been there) to performance (how well are your children doing).  That seems, from the private world, fairly obvious.  That sounds harsh, and I’m sure there is a valid opposite argument… but that is what many people from the outside see.  The trustee gave an example of a confrontation she had with someone when a teacher was released.  She turned to the fellow teacher and asked; “do you want her teaching YOUR child?” the other teacher went silent.  This rift sounds so conflicting to me: apparently pro-child means anti-teacher.  I don’t get it.  It seems like we should all be headed in the same direction.

The district has many amazing programs: the magnet schools, the prototype schools, new ways of teaching teachers, and charter schools.  They have some amazing stuff going on, and yet mostly we hear about the negative.  Look at this post!  Perhaps eventually I will talk about the positives.  One has to dog to find that, and I have just scratched the surface.  That, and recent events in my life keep my mood down.

What does the high school principal want?  More teachers.  She has only one teacher for several subjects that cover entire grades – she says that is very dangerous.  However, there’s no money for it.  What can up I do to help your school?  An easy thing would be to buy the class a set of books – a paperback novel for them to study.  What a great gift.  Contrasting that, the elementary school said to get on Facebook and see where you could volunteer…  They seemed to be doing so well.  The high school principal, on the other hand, was a proud, proven, success story who carried some battle scars.  As she talked about teachers you could see passion in her eyes, but a resigned sadness as well.  When someone asked if she saw any relief in sight, she sighed, met his eyes, and said “no, sir.  No I do not.”

So much to carry on about, but this post has gone too long for one.  Until next time.

OK I’m trying again

Image

This doesn't fit with the post, but here it is. Well, maybe it does.

So as usual I chide myself for not updating this poor neglected blog.  I ended up having ideas about what to write, but the project get long and daunting.  Other things I would like to write about get tied up in the “should I or should I not write about this” category due to other stakeholders involved… so, I stay quiet.  So now, at the end of the day on a Thursday, I sit down to write about nothing at all.

2011 had a bunch of events jammed into it – I had finalized my license in the previous year and followed up in 2012 with upgrading my real estate salespersons license to a brokerage license and completed a degree with the University of North Texas – the close of a long chapter of my life which ran in parallel with other events… I suppose creating a career was one of them.  Over the course of that process I found another interest of mine, mediation, which I got involved with… maybe that should be another blog post as well.

So I have things to write about – in November I attended a conference with a group called Entrepreneur’s Organization, which I found very energizing.  I am yet a member but need to sign up… A severe workload has put a lot of things, including this, on the back burner.  So, that trip is another blog post… It will probably come in February or later, making the recap three or four months old… nice.  Well, I will have had a good chance to reflect by then.

Lets see, what else – I was accepted into The Real Estate Council’s ALC program which is in full swing – I suppose thats something I should talk about, but there is an official blog on our project which should go up soon, so maybe I shouldn’t just yet.  I’m co-chair of our project, which has some demands on my time as well.

My company has also been caught up in a “merger” of sorts, which has presented its opportunities and challenges.  I have added another to the group and will add one more at the beginning of February.   I had a marquee student housing project (at least for me) last year that started construction in August and will finish for the fall semester 2012.  I have two other major projects that we are working on, and am optimistic about our future…  A nice feeling for a change.  I’m out to invent our company from the ground up and work on the practice from a business standpoint – actually bringing some of the principles of my long and drawn out education (business management, sociology, and applied economics) into the field of architecture.  I’m still in the planning stages, but so far my small group is receptive to the change.  The challenge is delivering on the promise.  But as long as I keep taking a step back to make sure we’re focused I have confidence we can make this work and make it work well while improving the product of our work.  It starts with a group of “A players,” which I believe we are starting to build.

A creepy picture I took in Chicago. Oh yeah, I went to Chicago.

Here are my Chicago pictures without me or anyone else I know in them.  I wanted to put the link in the caption but Worpress says no.  So, despite the feeling like 2011 has slipped by with no forward movement, I suppose  a lot has happened and I just haven’t stopped to notice.  I also bought a new fun car which I’ll probably write some short blurb about, although its not really blog worthy.  Maybe I should stop worrying about what’s blog worthy.

I’ve started putting a portfolio of sorts on Architizer, which may be a better spot for my stuff, anyway.  No sense in putting all of the old stuff that I simply did the CAD work for in my youth… but actual design work.  It doesn’t seem as cool as all of the awesome houses and such on the site, but it is a nice place to put the work and actually generates some traffic, which is helpful.

So here I go, starting again.  What made me even write this post was the fact that I have signed up for the Sam’s Club Ride for MS again, Dallas’ local MS 150.  That was the last time I used the blog… So that, peppered with little tidbits of my boring life, will hopefully generate some content to this sad little site.  Until next time!

Dallas Area Housing Values

 

Dallas Skyline as seen from the top of the Ritz Carlton Phase II condos while under construction

 

 

I know this blog is supposed to be about architecture, but seeing as I passed the brokerage exam (still waiting, two weeks later, on my paperwork) I do pay attention to housing – just because I have learned a lot in the transactions I have been a part of.

In the Dallas area, we have been blessed with a housing market which has not been hit nearly as bad as other areas.  We have had our share of builders with excessive inventories and neighborhoods which have had concentrated pockets of problems, but on the average the Dallas market has done relatively well.  From the graphic below from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University (using data from MetroTex, which is Dallas’ local chapter of Realtors) one can see that we saw a substantial drop in average price in 2009 which was quickly recovered in 2010.

Source: T A&M Real Estate Center

 

Volume, showed in blue, is significantly lower, which is most likely a result in the lack of confidence – people less likely to build a new house, trade up, or whatever the case may be.  This has been a lesson in economics – prices will not ALWAYS go up.  The long term trend, however, from 1979 shows growth, but like any other investment vehicle, homes are not steady.  My own thoughts are that home prices will remain relatively flat for quite a while.

 

This graphic shows price distribution – we you can see numbers from 2000 in blue and 2010 in red.  Interesting phenomenon here is a substantial shift from the 100-120K range to the higher end range, showing more expensive homes have not been apparently as hard hit (and therefore are still conveying ownership) as the median price range.

 

Source: T A&M Real Estate Center

 

I’m going to hope that this has been adjusted for 10 years of inflation.  It does not say so on the graphic, but usually these guys are pretty smart.  Just from a simple inflation calculator that I use regularly (this uses the CPI), $100,000 in 2000 would be valued at $123,357 in 2009, which is a pretty good jump.  Real estate rolls a little differently due to markets and liquidity, but the power of a dollar should still be a factor in this comparison.

 

Hearts and Hammers, Week 1

For the last few years, I have been on the team for The Real Estate Council for Hearts and Hammers Dallas.  This year, however, I was moved up to co-captain of one of two houses.  I actually didn’t know I was until I received an email for a meeting related to it, and I showed up.  Apparently, the email meant I was going to turn it up a notch.

Hearts and Hammers is a program that serves people in the area (there are chapters all over the country) who need help with their homes.  The clients must meet a certain income level and a certain amount of need.  In Dallas, the City actually takes this task on.  They take the applications and perform the interview process and background check.  I do not know what all of the requirements are to receive help, but it appears that the City goes out of its way to make sure we are helping the right folks.

When we come in, we basically pick out the houses, schedule the pick up days for materials, and coordinate what we need, what our scope of work is, and how many workers we will need.  Hearts and Hammers actually provides the majority of the materials; however, their materials are somewhat limited – if there is some other work you need to do, it is up to the teams to get that done.

This year, the program accepted money from HUD, which put a new set of rules in place having to do with the control of lead based paint.  The captains had to go to a training event, where an instructor went through a Power Point presentation provided by HUD and played a short instructional video.  Mostly, the information had to do with dust management and collection (keeping the paint from staying on the ground and soaking into the soil).  All was good, but it made me think about a few things.

There were a couple of other items that were typically provided by the program that were not this year.  The Real Estate Council has a budget for this project; so covering was not necessarily a problem.  However, the fact that Hearts and Hammers did not cover certain things and that they accepted HUD money shows that they have had budget cuts just like many of the programs in Dallas have suffered (I assume it is coming from Dallas due to the items not provided – I’m just choosing not to go into what they were).

On a general level, it got me talking with my girlfriend about budget cuts made my governments.  Since our city, just like many others, is suffering from budget problems, the program gets less money. Well, fine.  But what happens when times get better?  Will they get their original budget back, or will the increase in revenue go to other programs, or even new programs?  After listening to the budget meetings for the City of Dallas, I am beginning to wonder about this on many levels: the libraries and rec centers in particular – will they increase their hours and programs back to what they were before?  I suppose only time will tell.  This is the first time I have had firsthand experience with a government budget cut (I work in pretty much all private work), so I have no experience to base any sort of projection.

Week one was prep work – clear out the property, scrape the house down, and fix odds and ends with skilled labor (i.e., not me).  Our carpenters got a lot done on my house, and a few folks from my firm were able to handle some of the difficult items on the other house.  Next week, we will paint and landscape, making everything all nice and pretty (right now my house looks like it has been in a war).  This is when we have the most volunteers show up.  I’ll post more when we are done!

I will also get a picture of the house up as we were working on it when I receive one.

Interfaith Peace Chapel

Interfaith Peace Chapel, south lobby window

This is a very dry post today, which may just be a reflection of my mood… Sorry about this, but this appears to be a “facts only” kind of day.

As part of an AIA group, I was able to visit the Interfaith Peace Chapel at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas.  In the mid 1990’s, the church commissioned Philip Johnson to design a master plan for heir expansion.  By about 2001, a bell tower was built, which was designed by Johnson’s office.  The Interfaith Peace Chapel was given the green light after Johnson had passed on, and was picked up by local architect Gary Cunningham.  They built construction documents by using a digitized version of the model originally built for the master plan.  It seems like a rather challenging task, as the interior and exterior skins take different forms.

Belltower separating the existing sactuary from the new chapel. Eventally an outer cloister will tie all of the structures together, including the future sanctuary.

The different forms do allow for massive amounts of insulation, which is required for a chapel which sits directly under the flight path of Love Field.  The roof, which will appear to be monolithic with the rest of the skin when complete, is two layers of concrete sandwiching a layer of insulation.  The only acoustical weak spot will be the skylight, but it is glazed with over an inch (1 11/32, if I remember correctly) of tripled glazed laminated glass.

Skylight and spray applied open cell insulation throughout.

Each stud was premanufactured and numbered for assembly. Since all of the walls have a unique complex curve, each stud was individually crimped to meet specifications.

Individual studs numbered for assembly

The chapel holds about 200 people, but the next phase, a sanctuary, will be designed to hold roughly 2,500 people.  Below is a very nice animation of the project produced by M2 Studio.