E-mail to Community on March 8

Dear IAGD Community Members,

ASAK. Thank you to those who responded with such kind support to my e-mail of Friday, March 2, especially those who also copied the Board of Directors with their response. A significant number of people requested that I forward the e-mail that I sent to the Board on February 12, and several people felt that that e-mail should also be sent to the entire community. Thus, I have included that e-mail in its entirety below.

The e-mail below deals mainly with the financial aspects of the project, since that is one of my main concerns about the expansion project. Also, my background includes a bachelor’s in finance, an MBA, and a CPA, plus I have owned my own business for 25 years.

It is extremely difficult to get a handle on the cost of this project. Apparently, no detailed estimate has been obtained from construction companies. Instead, ballpark figures obtained from websites are being used to come up with the $7.5 million cost estimated by the Administration. However, when I used the figures provided to me by the President, I came up with a cost of $10.124 million. The architect’s original proposal for his services (G.A.V. & Associates, Inc. who is being used for this project), based on 3% of the project’s cost, indicated that the cost of the project would be $9.6 million plus the architect’s fee of $288,000 plus finishing costs (granite, marble, outside brick, etc.). Finishing costs could easily total another $1-$2 million, bringing the total cost to $10.9-$11.9 million. There is a huge difference between $7.5 million and $11.9 million. Also, if the project drags on for more than a couple of years, all of these prices could increase due to inflation and price increases.

It is hard to understand why a project of this magnitude, easily the most significant project undertaken by IAGD, is being handled in such a haphazard manner. The community is not being consulted on the project, detailed estimates of the cost are not being obtained, and no one knows how the project will be paid for. On February 13, I sent another e-mail to the Board with a document a Canadian mosque submitted to its community for a project that they were building with a construction cost of $1,089,500 and land cost of $650,000. Their document included the background, demographic information, floor plan, site plan, detailed estimate of the project’s cost, a revenue and expenditure budget for the project, and a summary of steps conducted for the project.

It is my recommendation that the Board take these three steps as soon as possible:

Hold a town hall meeting for the entire community. The scope of the meeting should not be limited to a review of the floor plan (which is what they attempted to do with the sisters’ meeting), but should address all aspects of the expansion. The meeting should also not be limited to a 2 hour time period, but should be allowed to continue until all of the community’s concerns have been addressed. After the initial meeting, additional meetings should be held to update the community and to make sure that there is consensus on the final plan.
Obtained detailed estimates of the cost of the project from reputable construction companies.  Once consensus has been reached on the expansion project, detailed estimates should be obtained that include all costs associated with the project, including finishing costs.
Prepare a detailed financial plan showing how the project will be funded. Administration has promised the community that the project will not be started until half of the cost of the project has been collected and that no financing will be used for the project. On average, over the past 10 years, the average annual amount collected for the expansion has been $300,000, with a total of $2.8 million available now. A detailed financial plan should be prepared that shows the cost of the project, the amount we have on hand, and plans for collecting the rest of the money on a year-by-year basis.

Again, please feel free to forward this e-mail to others who are not on the distribution list or send me the e-mail addresses to add to my list.

Thank you for your time.

Ann O’Brien Ahmad

E-mail sent to the Board of Directors on February 12, 2012:

Hussain,

ASAK. First, I would like to thank you and the rest of the Board for taking the time to hold the sisters’ expansion meeting on Saturday. It was very important to have a forum for the sisters to express their views and concerns about the project. I really think that you should hold a similar forum for the men as soon as possible so you can obtain their input on this project as well. For a project of this magnitude, it is important to get the commitment of the community and one of the best ways to do that is to ask for and listen to their input on the project.

Since I did not see anyone officially taking minutes at the meeting and you were trying to conduct the meeting as well as take notes, I thought I should share the key items that I noted would be considered:

  • Review the need for 10,000 square feet of open space on the two floors of the new building.
  • Review the need for 13,000 square feet of prayer area for the men and women.
  • Provide an area in the men’s prayer area for the women to pray during the week.
  • Consider removing the circular staircase and putting two staircases near the entrance by the parking lot.
  • Reconfigure the women’s restroom, wudu area, and shoe racks so that the restroom does not share a wall with the prayer area.
  • Expand the cry room.

It seemed like a significant number of the women at the meeting, myself included, were extremely concerned about the financial feasibility of this project and whether the community needs such a large facility. Although I was informed that there has been a financial feasibility study and that growth projections indicate the need for the project, nothing concrete or specific was discussed at the meeting. If you have a financial feasibility study or growth projections, I would really appreciate if you would send them to me so I can take a look at them.

As I explained to you personally, I have a bachelor’s degree in finance, an MBA, and a CPA, so I am extremely interested in the financial aspects of the expansion project. I specifically came to the meeting to get answers to my concerns about the project.

I was very glad to hear that there are no plans to get a loan to finance the project.

However, I am still struggling with the total cost of this project. When we spoke after the formal meeting, you indicated to me that the renovation of the current facility would cost $2,000,000, the new facility would cost approximately $140 per square foot for the finished space (40,000 square foot) including finishing costs and $50-$60 per square foot for the basement (20,000 square foot), the parking lot would cost $500,000 to $800,000, and the architect was charging $263,000.

When I do the math, I don’t come up with $7.5 million for the project. The new structure is 64,570 square feet, so 21,523 square feet would be the basement at let’s say $55 per square foot for a cost of $1,184,000 and the finished area would be 43,047 square feet at $140 per square foot for a cost of $6,027,000.

Thus, the construction costs would be $7,211,000 for the new structure, $2,000,000 for the renovated area, $650,000 for the parking lot (the midpoint of your estimates although my guess is it will take closer to the $800,000, maybe more), and $263,000 for the architect, bringing the total cost to $10,124,000, which is significantly higher than the $7.5 million mentioned at the meeting.

However, I’m not sure that using the average construction costs for churches in Oakland County is the best estimate of the mosque’s costs. Churches tend to have much simpler structures than mosques with much simpler finishes. Mosques make heavy use of marble and granite, which is very expensive. You’ll probably end up spending $140 per square foot overall (at least), for a total cost of the new facility of a little over $9 million, with a total project cost of close to $12 million. You are paying your architect a lot of money and he says he has substantial experience building mosques. Why isn’t he preparing a detailed cost estimate for this project? For a project of this magnitude, we shouldn’t be using published estimates of building costs of churches. We really need a detailed budget based on your plan and finishing.

Asif made a point at the meeting that the $2.8 million currently collected for the project is half of the cost of the project. I believe the reason he pointed that out is because the community has been told that the project would not be started until half the cost was collected. But, if the cost of the new structure is really $8.1 million (all costs less the $2 million for the renovation), don’t we need to wait to start the project until we have collected $4 million?

I was also bothered by how vague the fundraising plans seem to be. The average annual amount collected for the expansion over the past 10 years has been $300,000. If we need $10.124 million and $2.8 million has been collected, that means it will take 24 years to collect the rest of the money. When asked how you are going to collect this much money, everyone’s answer seems to be that once the project gets started, everyone will get excited and start donating more. Even if people got really excited and donated twice as much as they currently donate (which I really doubt will happen), you would need 12 years to collect all of the funds. There really ought to be better plans for collecting the funds needed for the project. I won’t even get in to the operating cost issue, which I think is another significant hurdle for this project.

When I was talking to Fawaz, I told him that I would take a look at the plans and let him know how I would remove $2-$3 million in construction costs while maintaining the basics of the current plan. Before going into that, however, I would like to say that you should give serious consideration to Sr. Khurshid Hassan’s recommendation. Her recommendation to keep the current prayer hall for the men, add the classrooms above the prayer area, and add the women’s prayer area to the east of the current facility could be completed with the funds you have collected so far and meet the majority of the community’s needs. It was a very wise recommendation from a very young member of the community.

But here is how I would reduce the cost. I would put classrooms in the current prayer area and not build a second floor. I believe this would alleviate the concerns by many that the current prayer hall should not be used as a social area. I would add air conditioning to the gym so that it could be used for large social functions. That should reduce the renovation costs for the existing building by at least $1 million (probably more since you don’t have to deal with issues arising from adding a second floor to a structurally unsound base).

I would reduce the lobby of the new facility from 5,231 square feet to 2,500 square feet, which would also reduce the second floor from 3,648 square feet to about 1,750 square feet. Including savings in the basement, that should reduce the construction cost by approximately $800,000. The savings will probably be substantially more, because I would imagine that this is going to be one of the most expensive areas in the new facility, with extensive use of granite and marble.

I would reduce the gathering area on the first floor as well as the library on the second floor by 500 square feet. Including savings in the basement, that should reduce the construction cost by $170,000.

I would eliminate the basement under the prayer area, reducing the construction cost by $430,000. (I would also give serious thought to eliminating the entire basement. Do you really need to spend $1,184,000 on a basement that you may never use?)

I would reduce the men’s prayer area by 1,800 square feet, which would still allow 600-800 men to pray. This would correspondingly reduce the women’s prayer area by about 1,240 square feet, which would still allow 375-475 women to pray. That should reduce the construction cost by $425,000. On days like Eid, overflow could go into the lobby areas on the first and second floor, allowing an additional 200-300 people on each level to pray.

Just concentrating on these major items would reduce the cost by $2,825,000, bringing the cost down by my calculations to $7,299,000. By your calculations, the cost would be reduced to $4,675,000. I am sure that if I went through the plan thoroughly, I would be able to find other areas for reductions totaling at least $1,000,000 or more.

There is no doubt that the current plan is a gorgeous plan, but it really seems excessive and extremely expensive. I believe that if you look for reasonable ways to scale it back, you can bring the cost down to a reasonable level while maintaining the basic functionality that you are looking for. You don’t want to have a beautiful facility and a bank-financed, bankrupt organization.

While I understand that everyone is anxious to start the project, the decisions you make now will impact the community for decades. Before making those decisions, it seems practical to obtain input and commitment from the entire community and to go through all your decisions one more time to make sure that you are not using flawed logic to justify a plan that may be more than the community can handle. The expansion committee has been working on this for three years. Perhaps they need a fresh perspective before making the final decision. One thing is certain. You will be the Board that makes the final decision — and for decades to come, you will be either blessed or cursed by future generations for that decision. May Allah (SWT) give you the wisdom and courage to make the right decision.

Ann O’Brien Ahmad

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One response to this post.

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