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The Red Plan's Project Manager Quits

by Harry Welty

Dave Korhonen, who was introduced to the Duluth School Board in January as JCI ’s “Project Executive” supervising the Red Plan, has taken another job. Frustrated by delays (perhaps the $50,000 per day delays that Nancy Nilsen complains of) Dave jumped at the chance to become the Director of facilities and transportation in Maple, Wisconsin where he happens to live.

Dave had worked closely with JCI as the Director of Buildings and Grounds for the Superior School District over the last ten years. While there he supervised the demolition of Superior's Old Central High and the construction of half a dozen new schools. I had heard that Mr. Korhonen had grown weary of 16 hour days. 

I introduced myself and he clearly knew I was a critic of the Red Plan but was gracious enough to tell me about his life’s work, Superior and a bit about the Red Plan.

He accepted his new job when he got a call out of the blue from the Maple Superintendent asking him if he’d like to work in Maple. A death and a retirement had made both the buildings and transportation positions available. They were both offered to Dave making him something of a twofer.

Mr. Korhonen was probably a good fit for Duluth ’s Red Plan work. He was a construction manager for Lakehead in Duluth and had worked on Duluth schools in the past. He had helped supervise the building of Lakewood School 16 years ago and almost apologized about how recent code changes required new HVAC (heating, air conditioning and ventilation) to be installed in such a young building.

He was a big supporter of energy efficiency but admitted that the costs were considerable. Dave takes the issue as a personal challenge. He has put almost every conceivable energy savings technology into his own home.

I was most surprised by what Dave told me about his time in the Superior School District . He was hired by Superior to do much the same thing Duluth has done in coming up with a long range plan. Although he hired JCI to install energy savings systems in the Schools he was in charge and he worked for the District. Unlike what's happened in Duluth JCI wasn't running the show. 

After Superior's school came on line Superior was given an energy efficiency award by  “Focus on Energy.”  Superior earned the top honors over 900 other Wisconsin schools.

Korhonen was and is a proponent of having a single vender to simplify the District’s management. If JCI gets all the orders for this equipment in Duluth it will stand to make close to $35 million in sales. Dave told me that if a single teacher were to call and complain about the heat in a classroom all it would take to solve the problem would be to press a button from a remote site. Every school in Superior now has an EMS (Energy Management System) I didn’t ask Dave whether this could be installed in an old building.  

The difference between Duluth and Superior is however dramatic. Superior got to vote. The voters in Superior passed a $47 million bond referendum. That sounds like a lot although its probably considerably less per student than the Red Plan but Superior got a bargain. The referendum was passed at a time when the state of Wisconsin paid two-thirds of the cost of the building. S uperior voters only paid a modest $15 million dollars.  Duluth voters will be footing a $293 million bill.

I asked Dave about transportation costs and Dave assured me that the transportation costs would increase under the Red Plan. He said they were “obvious” because greater distances would increase transportation costs.

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