I received an email a few months back inviting me into the evil world of locked specifications on school work. Public school work. It sent me to a website that contained reams of news reports of abuses by public school purchasing agents and school boards. How they were spending millions — tens of millions too much — on retrofit roofing projects because of locked specs.

I did not respond to this until now, not because I do not think it is a problem, but because it is old news and because I have yet to find an angle to report on this story to the extent that it will help roofing contractors. This publication, even this blog, is edited to help roofing contractors succeed. We yield abuses by public education officials to the nightly news, the daily paper, or other retail media outlets.

The other thing worth mentioning is that most of the work performed on the schools mentioned, at least historically, has been done by roofing contractors. There are cases where the manufacturer/distributor of some systems have become roofing contractors themselves, but that just puts them squarely in our sights as one of the good guys (unless they are doing something illegal, which time after time they have not been convicted of anything).

My cynical view on this issue is driven by the fact that anyone who can read a specification and really wants to compete should be able to come up with a system that can compete with vendors who command such a large portion of school work in some school systems. And nowadays, school systems are joining “buy groups” to purchase everything from pencils to ketchup to roofs. They buy in bulk, presumably for better pricing. I am not a big fan of buy groups and think some public institutions are in them simply because they are lazy.

At any rate, these vendors offering the “locked specs” in the public arena are subject to competition just like the rest of us. Rather than whining about things like selling school boards $1,000 rolls of modified, why not come up with something to compete? It sounds like somebody is making some money in this scheme, and they have been in the game as long as I can remember. I am not advocating ripping anyone off or doing anything illegal or unethical. But if you tear apart a set of specifications and look at everything that goes into the “system,” you will find that some of the school folks buying the high-dollar solutions are doing it because it is a way for them to go nearly “hands-off” with their roofing assets.

 I know there will be arguments that this is not so, but that is the promise and in some cases it really does work out that way, which is what leads to more business for the enterprises cooking up these schemes. So why not reverse engineer what they are doing and give them a run for their money? Call me crazy, but this is still a free country and most entities dealing with public money are compelled to at least listen to competing offerings for construction projects.