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State Architect Digitizes School Plans

Throughout the state, there are $60 billion in school bonds for construction. The state assumes a 5 percent inflation rate, which results in $250 million a month. The Division of the State Architect sees about $1 billion in work a month, according to State Architect Chester Widom.

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The Division of the State Architect in the Department of General Services has worked to streamline its business processes and save taxpayers money.

Throughout the state, there are $60 billion in school bonds for construction. The state assumes a 5 percent inflation rate, which results in $250 million a month. The division sees about $1 billion in work a month, according to State Architect Chester Widom.

Widom led the effort to analyze the certification and approval process to find time savings for school construction projects. 

"We are the pinch point or the bottleneck that stops construction, that's historically what we are. That's part of the big change that we tried to build here," Widom said in a breakout at Governing* magazine's California Leadership Forum on Dec. 6.

When Widom came to DSA in 2012, there were 16,386 projects that were not certified.

Widom and his team found that certification of construction did not take place until after a school site was built, the opposite of the way other construction gets done and requiring construction teams to make changes and updates after the fact.

In order to work through the more than 16,000 stalled projects, Widom offered a certification card concurrently to the construction process, and digitized project records and documents and employee change management strategies.

"We take the drawings and the work of our clients, the school districts, and we review them. We don't own them, they own them ... so there's no secrecy, it's all public information," Widom said. "So we wanted to make sure it's transparent and we set up systems where everyone could use them."

It took almost two years to bring everyone on board, mostly because it was a top-down change, according to Widom.

The department has also stopped accepting paper drawings, requiring everything be submitted digitally. Architects are also required to use an appointments system to get their drawings approved, which cuts down on the time between submission and approval, when they could not be worked.

All projects submitted in person will be digital by March 1.

*Governing is a sister publication of Techwire.

Kayla Nick-Kearney was a staff writer for Techwire from March 2017 through January 2019.