Twenty-five hundred miles from Miami, in the same year the Miami-Dade School Board approved a massive bond referendum for construction, a school district rising from the deserts of southern Nevada faced a staggering challenge.
More than 8,000 new students a year were flooding Clark County Schools, and even more were on the way. In the span of a decade, the Las Vegas-based system with some 120,000 students expected to more than double in size. In 1988, voters passed a bond referendum worth $600 million.
Both school systems, overwhelmed by construction needs and flush with new money, launched two of the most aggressive school-building campaigns in the nation.
In the past 15 years, Clark County built 147 schools.
Dade County built 61, and that includes seven largely funded before the $980 million bond referendum in 1988. The school system also built 14 primary learning centers, small buildings to ease crowding on existing campuses.
It took Clark County five years and $600 million to build the first series of 57 schools, plus renovations and additions, promised in 1988.
It took Miami-Dade County the better part of 15 years and well over $1.2 billion for new schools alone.
Clark County has since approved two more bond referendums worth $1.2 billion. The district built 145 major school additions, bought up vacant land, spent hundreds of millions on renovation projects, replaced three inner-city schools, and opened dozens more schools, including 25 in the last two years alone.
The work was done at a frantic pace.
"We delivered quality schools for a reasonable price," said Dale Scheideman, director of new schools facilities and planning in Clark County. "And we opened schools quickly. Because we were able to do that, the community didn't question us."
Yet, controversy has hounded Miami-Dade County's school-construction program.
It cost too much, produced too little, dragged on for years even as communities waited and children grew up. The hope for upgraded, less crowded schools died as project after project stumbled, leaving behind a district now desperate to muster public confidence.
Crowding is worse than ever. Leaks and cracking walls afflict new buildings. Thousands of fire- and life-safety violations linger on campuses from Hialeah to Homestead. Existing schools struggle to teach children in schools taxed by obsolete classrooms, busted air conditioners, leaking roofs, corroded plumbing.
Superintendent Merrett Stierheim is beginning to overhaul the construction program.
Late Wednesday, he released a three-page memo to his top staff detailing six sweeping proposals. Among them: hiring more experienced architects and holding them accountable for errors that drive up costs. He also wants construction experts to regularly inspect projects - from planning to construction to the final occupancy of buildings.
Stierheim is tracking problem construction projects to find out why new buidings had deficiencies such as water intrusion.
And his staff is talking about strategies that districts like Clark County have long relied on, such as building a series of schools using "prototypes," meaning the same plans and designs.
Today, he's hosting a construction retreat with construction experts to explore ways to rebuild the program. "The overwhelming conclusion is we can do a better job, and that we . . . are committed to doing that," he said. "I hope that people are going to at least have hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel."