AIA-NJ Responds to Star Ledger Article

The following is a Letter to the Editor submitted by AIA New Jersey in response to an article published yesterday in The Star Ledger:

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To the Editor:

Regarding “Christie to announce $584M plan for construction, renovation of 10 N.J. schools” Feb. 15, 2011:

The article states: “New projects will also use a standardized design, described by critics as “cookie cutter” schools, that will save an estimated $4 million for each site. The savings will be realized by eliminating the need for architects and project engineers.” Clearly, whoever made such a statement does not understand the complexity of construction in the 21st century.

Architects are uniquely trained, licensed professionals, statutorily required to protect the public health, safety and welfare. The use of stock plans has been tried, and failed, in 21 other states across the country. The New Jersey Chapter of the American Institute of Architects has been explaining this for years. But, the constant clamor for prototype plans for schools belies the complexity of modern architectural design. Architects are required to design buildings specifically suited to their location. This includes a number of unique local conditions such as: soil type, grading, vehicular access, site utilities, snow load, rainfall intensity, seismic conditions, wind speed, solar orientation, and more.
Further, New Jersey has rural communities, suburban communities and urban communities. These sites require a multitude of single story and multi-story design solutions. School sizes will vary with the number of students, and floor plans will vary with curricular differences.

It would be utterly imprudent and financially wasteful to design to a worst case scenario for all these factors. As they say, “For every complicated problem, there is a simple and equally as wrong answer.” Simply put, “there is no ‘one size fits all’ model, and every change in a ‘model’ has a ripple affect making savings illusory.”

Designing and constructing a school, or any other building for that matter, is a complicated process. We at AIA New Jersey unconditionally support the competent and ethical practice of architecture. We are steadfastly committed to providing the highest quality, cost efficient learning environments and firmly believe architects should maintain those standards while fulfilling their contractual obligations to the citizenry of the State of New Jersey. We welcome a conversation about ways in which construction costs can be contained, but we cannot accept such an egregious underestimation of the role of architects in the process.

Bruce D. Turner, AIA
AIA New Jersey Public Awareness Committee Chair

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To read the original Star Ledger article go to

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  • Kurt Kalafsky  On February 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Excellent reply Bruce, I hope Christie’s office reads these responses.

  • Stephen Doyle, AIA  On February 18, 2011 at 9:31 am

    An excellent response.

    Note that the average cost per proposed school is $48 million, so a $4 million savings per school represents over 8% of the total project cost, well above what SDA traditionally pays in A-E fees. So even if a set of “cookie cutter” plans were fully documented, it seems misleading to publicly suggest that somehow these standardized designs would save so much. Without backing that claim up, this seems like hollow political rhetoric rather than meaningful cost-saving changes.

    It is truly a shame that more structural changes were not made to the SDA so that it could produce schools at costs much lower than it has in the past. Private school clients have been able to generate renovation work and new construction at 30%-75% of the cost of comparable SDA projects…

  • jerome Leslie Eben, AIA  On February 18, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Bruce and others were involved in putting together this response. The most important thing I would want to point out to our entire membership, is that YOUR AIANJ leadership when this article was presented to us, jumped into action. Back up information was secured from national within 15 minutes of a request for same and we have been have been very careful in this pointed response not to be acusatory, but to provide factual information to the public, so that a wider portion of the NJ public will begin to learn more about what we do for a living and the “value of using an architect” not only for schools, but for other public and private building types. I never want to hear again the following “what has AIA done for me lately”! Congratulations to Bruce and Dave for their many hours of work and to Joe and Larry for their best guidance as to our approach.

    The entire membership can stand proud of the leadership and in turn proud of the service(s) they provide their clients on the projects that they design knowing that they are responible for the Health, Safety and Welfare of the NJ public that use these buildings every day.

    Thank you,
    Jerome Leslie Eben, AIANJ

  • Bruce D. Turner, AIA  On February 23, 2011 at 10:37 am

    An abbreviated version of this Letter to the Editor hit newsprint on Feb 23. See

  • Bruce D. Turner, AIA  On July 8, 2011 at 9:58 am

    The following article exemplifies a very interesting concept for ways to resolve the school construction dilemma in New Jersey. If only our politicians and educational leaders would simply open their minds and listen to the Architects who lead the construction industry. There are unique and creative solutions to the issues. Architects are problem solvers. We need to find a way to put the two together.

  • Bruce D. Turner, AIA  On July 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    How refreshing. It’s nice to see that a chief financial officer and the community relations director understand the technical issues of aged plans, topography, construction schedules and design complexity, etc.


  • By AIA-NJ Response Printed in Star Ledger « AIA-NJ on February 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    […] see the original response and article read older post By aiaadmin, on February 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm, under AIA-NJ News, Legislative & Government […]

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