Highlights: As the new Executive Director of an organization charged with spending $4.1 billion over the next three years, Mike Shoemaker has an enormous task ahead of him. The decisions his organization, the Ohio School Facilities Commission, makes or approves will affect much of the construction going on in Ohio in the immediate future. Mr. Shoemaker’s varied background as teacher, contractor, and state legislator involved in a non-voting role on the OSFC uniquely prepared him for his new role. Talking to Brickerconstructionlaw.com, he stressed his goals for the OSFC: getting feedback from users of the system, serving all the school districts in Ohio, collaborating with the Department of Education, reducing finger-pointing when something goes wrong and—most of all—making quality the program’s top priority. Anyone who hopes to be involved with public construction in Ohio in the next few years should benefit from this window into the thinking of Mike Shoemaker after six months in the role of OSFC Executive Director.

Background for the Job

If you were going to select an Executive Director for a commission in charge of public school construction in Ohio, you might consider a triumvirate: Someone who knew education, someone who knew construction, and someone who knew the legislative process. Or you might get lucky and find one person who knew all three. That is exactly what Governor Ted Strickland did in February, when he appointed Mike Shoemaker to be the fourth Executive Director of the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

Shoemaker knows the educational system from his years as a high-school teacher and football coach in Southern Ohio. A graduate of Paint Valley High School in 1962, he earned a B.S. in education from Capital University before returning to his old school near Bainbridge as a math instructor and successful football coach. Later he coached and taught physical education at Waverly City School District, then moved to Chillicothe and later Unioto, teaching math and coaching while serving as athletic director.

But after 10 years in teaching and a master’s degree in education from Xavier University, Shoemaker left in 1977 for the home construction business. For the next five years, he built homes and gained an insider’s view of how the construction industry operated.

Five years later, in 1982, Shoemaker was ready for his third career, this time in State government. A Democrat, he served in the Ohio House of Representatives for 14 years and in the Ohio Senate for six years before returning to the construction business in 2002.

Role in Creating the OSFC

When the OSFC was proposed, Shoemaker was in the State Senate. He voted against it. Why? Asked recently, he gave two reasons: “I felt the existing construction program, then administered by Ohio Department of Education, should be expanded rather than creating a new state agency. Also, there seemed to be a strong political agenda being advanced behind the scenes regarding the prevailing wage issue, and OSFC was going to be caught in the middle. To be honest, I probably wasn’t very open-minded on the issue.”

Still, the OSFC passed without his vote, and Shoemaker became one of the original non-voting members of the Commission in 1995, serving for the next five years. He describes the OSFC of 1997 as a “unicycle” and says, “Now, we have an 18-wheeler.”

At first, for 18 months the Commission heard no public testimony, and Shoemaker was a strong advocate to change that policy. “You can never get enough feedback from the users,” he thinks. That is why increasing feedback to the OSFC is one of the new Executive Director’s goals.

Surprises on the Job

After six months on the job, Shoemaker is still surprised by the variety of issues bombarding the office. He may come in to work with five items on his “to do” list, but inevitably he winds up attending to 10 other tasks.

Despite his inside knowledge of the three areas impacting the Commission the most—education, construction, and government—Shoemaker has never been an administrator. He wondered how he would make the transition from being “a one-man band” to being an administrator of a staff of 60, all with different personalities. Could he learn to delegate?

The answer came quickly, as Shoemaker had way too much to do to handle it all himself. He had to “check his guns at the door,” as he puts it, and become part of the team. The issues were complex, and the staff was too good for him to come in and make quick decisions on his own. Instead, he is learning to delegate and to recognize each individual’s expertise.

A Positive Challenge

One of the biggest challenges Shoemaker faces in the next three years would make him the envy of almost any other administrator: How to spend $4.1 billion from the settlement of the tobacco lawsuits (called the Tobacco Securitization Initiative)?

Obviously, the OSFC will have to start spending at an even faster rate than it has in its first 10 years, when it spent just over $5 billion. Shoemaker envisions school construction becoming “one of the biggest industries in Ohio” very soon.

The additional funding is a real advantage, Shoemaker thinks, enabling the Commission to achieve another of his goals: serving all of the districts in Ohio, not just those with the most severe needs. For some districts, OSFC aid might not come in the form of building a building. Instead, Shoemaker thinks, it might involve upgrading technology.

But the strings attached to the tobacco settlement money create one disadvantage, too: The money must be spent in the next three years. OSFC must allocate the dollars wisely and effectively within a very limited timeframe.

One plan in the works is to serve more of the “ELPP” districts, those involved in the Expedited Local Partnership Program. This Program enables school districts further down in the equity list of eligible schools to proceed with their projects right now, while the costs of construction are presumably lower than they may be in a few years. The districts have to use local monies, but when they become eligible for the Classroom Facilities Assistance Program (known as “CFAP”), the work they have already completed and funded will count toward their required local contribution.

Additional Goals

The additional money should help the OSFC achieve some of Shoemaker’s other goals, too. One of these is developing a stronger collaboration with the Department of Education. The curriculum continues to change, Shoemaker points out, and the building designs must change with it. A new building must fit a new curriculum.

The additional funding enables the Commission to announce its next round of projects earlier than was once the norm. This year, for instance, the Commission followed its typical May announcements of upcoming projects with a second round of announcements in July. These districts can begin the planning process earlier than in the past. This will allow more time for planning and community involvement to better design facilities that meet the unique needs of each district.

Another goal for the new school buildings is that they get plenty of use. He’s hopeful that the local communities and districts can develop unique partnerships that will allow the schools to be community resources as well as education centers—an attitude already in place in some OSFC-funded projects around the state. Shoemaker doesn’t envision schools that close shortly after 3:30. “I hope the buildings will wear out rather than rust out,” he says.

The OSFC’s Future

What lies ahead for the OSFC? Will there ever come a time when the State no longer needs a School Facilities Commission? Shoemaker thinks not in the near future. He mentions several changes he sees in the works.

First, although there will always be a continuing need for the Commission, he thinks at some point the volume of construction is bound to slow down. But the OSFC should still serve as a valuable resource—and some construction and renovation will be inevitable. Shoemaker also suggested that increased environmental awareness probably means an emphasis on sustainable design, with an attempt to get LEED certification for new buildings. (LEED certification comes from the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit coalition of building industry leaders, and the acronym stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” For more details on the program, see “Green Buildings & Green Hospitals—Earning Points for Being Energy Efficient” in our May 2006 issue.)

Maintenance is another area for additional focus. The OSFC delivers a very good product, Shoemaker feels. (“We’re good at building buildings.”) But once the facility is built, the district has to maintain it and operate it. More thought will be given to this stage of the building’s life, he thinks.

Also, the Commission will be attempting to assist some earlier districts that have had problems with their new or renovated buildings or perhaps did not have the full benefit of features that have been added since the early days of the program—such as energy conservation. Shoemaker mentioned roof problems and masonry problems—two areas anyone in construction will recognize as vulnerable to defects and non-compliant work.

Problems may occur, he thinks, because it is impossible to have expertise in the whole construction process. One possible solution may be to make greater use of commissioning. Now the OSFC requires commissioning for the HVAC systems. In the future, it may use commissioning during the masonry work or the construction of the roofs.

An urgent goal of Shoemaker’s is the elimination of “finger-pointing.” This can be a big operational problem, and it often occurs because of the split in authority. The OSFC hires the Construction Manager, but the school district hires the Architect. So if something goes wrong, who will shoulder the blame? There is always someone to serve as a target of the finger-pointing.

Shoemaker also sees a greater variety in building styles in the OSFC’s future. There are already some very creative designs out there, and he emphatically denies the rumor that all OSFC buildings are the same. He anticipates greater flexibility at OSFC in meeting the needs of each partner district.

Quality: Job 1

All of the changes Shoemaker hopes to bring about can be summed up in his top priority: Quality. If Ford had not originated the slogan, “Quality is Job 1,” then Shoemaker would have come up with it. He recognizes that other goals will have to be close—“a 1A and 1B, perhaps”—but nothing can be more important than quality.

When he enters his office every day, Shoemaker sees a silent reminder of his emphasis on quality—a picture of Don Knotts dressed as his famous character, Barney Fife from “The Andy Griffith Show.” Why does Barney hang on the wall? “Because he’s our quality control man,” Shoemaker says. He recalls fondly Barney’s famous line: “Andy, you gotta nip it in the bud!”

Definition of Success

The interview ended with a question on what Shoemaker needed to do over the next five years to consider himself a success. The answer—in two parts—revealed much about the man.

First, Shoemaker focused on the future he envisions for the OSFC: Refocusing efforts toward quality control, delivering products to the school districts that will make the districts proud, improving sensitivity toward the educational process that occurs in the buildings.

Then he looked back at a teaching experience that, for him, defined success. He was having a bad year as a football coach, and he felt the animosity strongly. But in the phys ed classroom, he had some very personal successes.

Shoemaker related the story of one student, a special education student who was mainstreamed into the regular classroom. John always dressed for gym, but he was reluctant to try many of the activities the other students enjoyed. Then one day, after passing up several chances to try the trampoline, he got up his courage and agreed to try. His fellow students hoisted him up, and John was in the air! The students, with tears in their eyes, learned a valuable lesson that day on how you measure success, and their instructor did, too.

However he measures success, it is clear that Mike Shoemaker knows where he is going and where he wants to see the OSFC go. Given the funding that the tobacco settlement makes possible for the schools, there is a strong likelihood that both Shoemaker and the OSFC will get there together.