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GRAVES: A bitter pill to swallow

"Better three hours too soon than a minute too late." — William Shakespeare, "The Merry Wives of Windsor."

I suppose it is no accident that one of the most famous quotes on punctuality was written by an Englishman. The English have a stern sense, bordering on fussiness, of the virtue of promptness. Then again, when one of your most iconic national emblems is an immense tower with no other purpose than displaying a big, old clock (Big Ben), this should really come as no surprise.

Though I'm generally ill-disposed toward our British brethren for all sorts of historical reasons (I'm Irish after all), I have to admit I love the English sense of regularity, of reliability. Were it up to me, I'd add an eighth item, tardiness, to the Seven Deadly Sins. I don't quote football coaches much, but Lombardi had his finger on something when he said, "If you are five minutes early, you are already ten minutes late."

Which is not to say that I am always early. In the pursuit of efficient use of time, I often — far too often — schedule meetings too tightly against one another, resulting in my inevitably being late for the subsequent ones. But when I find myself in this position, of being late, I raise the error to that of a moral failing because it says to others — without saying it — that my time is more important than their time. It is pride, one of those Deadly Sins, in action and on display.

And thus, the delay in the grand opening of our new Performing Arts is a bitter pill for me to swallow. What makes it especially acrid is that the cause of and responsibility for the delay can only be fairly laid at my own feet. Mea culpa.

As we waded into the planning for the performing arts center, years ago now, we had to set some priorities. Our first priority was the building itself. We wanted to make sure it had all the features we desired: sufficient seating for a wide variety of events, exceptional acoustics, a classic and pleasing aesthetic sense both interior and exterior, top-notch acoustics, outstanding lighting, sound and presentation technologies, spacious and modern classrooms, etc. As part of this priority, we also wanted the building to serve as one of the intermediate steps for eventually replacing the current high school structure. Our second priority, though its integration with the first priority makes the two all but inseparable, was budget. Once we determined the amount we could spend on the project, we were equally determined to stick with that number. Our third priority was calendar. We wanted to finish the project on time but notice, in the setting of priorities, we deliberately placed the schedule for completion behind building quality and budget.

Thus, for example, we did not insert into the bid process a mandated completion date after which successful bidders would pay penalties because of our sense that doing so would add to the upfront bid numbers, as competing companies factored in the possibility that penalties would eventually have to be paid. We also demurred at certain points from construction decisions that would have expedited the schedule but added costs, as when exterior work was delayed by the decision not to sheathe large exterior sections in plastic with temporary heating. We did the same for quality issues. Time could probably have been shaved from the project by going with a different interior hallway block around the auditorium but doing so would have detracted from aesthetics and done so not for the days or weeks saved by the decision but for the entire life of the building.

In the end, then, we succeeded in achieving our first two priorities for the building but failed, probably by 2-3 weeks or so depending on how you view the evolving construction calendar, in meeting our third.

I'm tempted to offer an Anglophonic and tepid, "Bloody shame, that." But the truth is that a failure to finish on time is just that, a failure. And it is a particular failure in that it has forced the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce, one of the best friends our community has, to move their annual Chamber gathering out of the PAC in order to hold their event on the scheduled date. It has also forced all those incredible people who were so generous in making donations to the PAC to upset their calendars as they try to work in a new date for the grand opening. It's one thing to 'put out' our own programs, but all but inexcusable to disrupt one's benefactors and one's guests.

For all those so affected by these delays, I apologize.

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