High inclusion goal set for new MPS headquarters

by Charles Hallman

Committee will monitor diverse participation in contracting, workforce

Construction of the new Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) headquarters is now in its beginning phase. Abatement and demolition of the former Broadway School building on West Broadway in North Minneapolis is expected to be completed before the end of the year, says MPS Equity and Diversity Director James Burroughs.

Burroughs’ office is primarily responsible for monitoring business and workforce diversity inclusion of the project from start to finish, a task he calls “serious to the school district and the community.”

The stated goal for the new school district building is 25 percent Black, women and other persons of color in both business and workforce participation. According to Burroughs, this goal is “in the contract that Mortenson [the general contractor] has to hit. [But] we’re looking at…an aggressive goal of 30 percent.

“If we knock this out of the park, which we will, this will be the framework for folks to use in the future,” Burroughs predicts. “This will be one of the largest participations the city has ever seen.”

The school board in September set up a Minority, Women and Diverse Business Participation Oversight Committee to monitor and evaluate the participation of Blacks, women and other persons of color in the construction process. The five members of the committee are: Shiloh Temple Pastor Bishop Richard Howell, University of Minnesota Business and Community Economic Development Director Craig Taylor, West Broadway Business Association President Ron Hicks, Minneapolis Civil Rights Department Director Velma Korbel, and Luz Maria Frias, the director of St. Paul’s Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity office

The committee met for the first time on Tuesday, December 7, at MPS’s present Northeast headquarters. (MSR will provide a report in next week’s edition.)

“There were a lot of persons who wanted to be on the committee,” notes Burroughs, “but I wanted to pick a broader representation. I didn’t want it to be full of ‘yes’ people either for the school district or myself.”

Howell’s church is located across the street from the new school district site, and Hicks was chosen by Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels, who lives nearby. Taylor’s office was involved in monitoring the U of M stadium project. Korbel’s and Frias’ offices do hiring monitoring and business inclusion for their respective city construction projects.

“I wanted people with experience in this area,” Burroughs explains.

He and Mortensen Community Affairs Director Lynn Littlejohn will regularly provide the oversight committee with construction updates, says Burroughs. “These meetings are open to the public, and the public will get to ask questions and make recommendations,” he says.

In ensuring that businesses owned by Blacks and other persons of color have the opportunity to bid for subcontracting work on the project, Burroughs says various parts have been divided into “smaller phases or smaller bid packages.” He notes, “One of the major barriers [in past projects] was the bonding requirements for large contracts. They were huge, and a lot of [Black-owned firms] didn’t have the capacity to bid on large contracts.”

Furthermore, Burroughs says he has reached out to such area organizations as the Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce and the local chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors to get the word out to small businesses for bid opportunities. “We are making sure that we are on the front end…talking about this so folk know what’s happening.”

More importantly, Burroughs insists that “real keen oversight” of the new MPS headquarters must occur. “You can put on paper the goals and have all the public meetings,” he surmises, “but when the project starts to go up, people want to see people of color and women on the project site.

“Not only our eyes, but I encourage the community to hold us accountable,” he says. “I want public members to drive by, and if they don’t see people [of color] out on the site, let us know.

Let the oversight committee or myself know, so we can follow up on those kinds of things. Even if we are not there physically every day, I want the public to be our eyes and ears.

“And if things aren’t working out, we’ll get Mortensen, Thor and Legacy [two local Black-owned construction firms] back to the table and say, ‘We need to improve these numbers.’”

MPS has an obligation to its customers as well as to contribute positively to the area’s quality of life, claims Burroughs. “Our customers are our students,” he says. “We have 40 percent African American students in our Minneapolis Public Schools… We owe them an obligation to serve them.

“If we talk about increasing economic development within our communities but we are not spending money with women, minorities and African American businesses, we are just talking a good game and not doing anything with our actions.”

The new MPS headquarters is not the only project Burroughs’ office is involved with. “My office is responsible for business partner diversity and how we spend money throughout the entire year.

There are opportunities for counseling contracts, providing services and goods, [because] there are other [MPS] facilities that we are going to either rehab or re-do, and other types of construction as well.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.