Before the repeat elections in Berlin: the Senate’s school building and renovation program is under criticism

The repeat elections for the House of Representatives and the district assemblies in Berlin have not yet taken place, when the new Berlin Senate, which still has to be formed after the elections, is already getting its first homework – for the renovation and construction of schools.

Despite some peculiarities – the problem is not specific to Berlin: school buildings everywhere in Germany are showing their age and need to be renovated. Since the existing school places are not sufficient, new schools have to be built. For this reason, the Berlin Senate had already started a so-called school construction initiative in the last legislative period. It was intended to accelerate the sluggishly progressed renovations and also erect new buildings. The topic came up again before the upcoming repeat elections in Berlin.

Investments have increased steadily since then and are now aiming for a mark of 700 million euros per year, which is to be invested in the construction and renovation of schools. But the balance of the program since 2016 is rather mixed.

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PPP model

A Berlin specific feature of this construction and renovation model is that the Berlin Senate has commissioned a municipal housing company, Howoge, with the implementation – actually not a special company for the construction of schools. In the present case, the company is to proceed according to the example of heritable building rights: the land on which the schools are to be built remains the property of the State of Berlin, and the construction company is to construct the school building on it. The buildings are the property of the construction company, which then makes them available to the Berlin districts for “pure cost rent”. The heritable building rights are to end after 37 years – and the school buildings are to become the property of the districts. A similar scheme is to be used for school renovations.

This model for new construction and renovation of Berlin schools has been criticized for many years. Because the concept is based on the pattern of public-private partnerships (PPP), in which the state transfers public tasks to “private investors” for a predetermined period of time in exchange for payments.

Criticism of the Berlin Senate

In Berlin, the initiative “Gemeingut in Bürgerinnenhand” (GiB) has taken up the criticism of insufficient school renovation and the faltering construction of schools and started a petition. The initiators use the repeat elections to the Berlin House of Representatives on February 12 to draw attention to the deficits in the renovation work in the school system. To do this, write:

“The plans for outsourcing the Berlin school building to the housing association Howoge GmbH have turned out to be an expensive, risky and time-consuming mistake. The repeat election is a chance to leave this mistake before it is cemented for 37 years by heritable building rights. That’s why we’re still writing in the election campaign to the party leaders of SPD, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, CDU, FDP and Linke. Let’s save the Berlin schools and demand the binding commitment with us: school building not with the Howoge!”

GiB recognizes that 25,000 school places have been created by the districts and the state building administration in the past five years. But of all people, Howoge, who was commissioned by the Senate, “didn’t contribute to a school place”. Consequences must be drawn from this. The Howoge should no longer remain involved in the school building. Because the construction of a further 25,000 school places is pending, and the Howoge is a long time coming. At the same time, the costs under the direction of Howoge for refurbishments would be five times the national average per school place, and for new buildings three times the average. GiB is therefore demanding that the new Senate, which will be formed after the elections, end the heritable building contracts with Howoge in the school sector. In a conciliatory “PS” GiB adds: “Let the Howoge build apartments.”

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