Commissioners reveal school construction costs, say more classrooms needed

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Jessie Burchette

Salisbury Post

Taxpayers and Rowan County commissioners got a bit of good news this week on the cost of building schools.

While the costs of projects included in the 2002 bond went over budget by $10 million, building the same schools today could easily cost $20-$30 million more.

School officials and taxpayers will soon face one more time the rising costs of building. Officials also said they are looking at adding capacity in the Landis/China Grove area due to pending growth.

While commissioners and taxpayers have grimaced at a high school nearly $10 million over the original budget, officials said things could be much worse.

Officials cited Carson High School, the 214,000-square-foot facility in China Grove, built at a cost of $32.8 million.

The construction cost of Carson was $125 per square foot.

Jim Christy, assistant superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools, said bid prices for high schools in the past few weeks have risen to between $180 and $190 per square foot.

At that rate, building Carson today would cost about $14 million more — or $46 million.

“We got some in ahead of the curve,” said Christy, commending officials for the decision to speed up construction once the $76.9-million school bond was passed in November 2002. Rowan-Salisbury received $73 million with Kannapolis City Schools getting almost $4 million.

County commissioners and the school board have worked to expand the Rowan-Salisbury construction budget to nearly $85 million. That includes borrowing an additional $6 million, using interest accrued from the bond money, sales tax refunds and current school expense money.

Last month, commissioners asked for detailed report on construction costs and a full accounting of all dollars including money remaining from the 11 different project budgets.

Christy and Bill Hill of Construction Control Corp., the company that managed the bond, briefly reviewed 15 pages of financial data on the projects, including detailed lists of change orders and costs.

An estimated $1.1 million is expected to be left over from all projects, excluding Shive Elementary, which is now under construction.

The county also has about $1 million available from interest earned on the bond money.

Commissioner Jim Sides questioned the disparity in costs for the three elementary schools that are the same design.

Christy said it was in part timing. Millbridge was bid in March 2004 with the building and site costs at $7.8 million. A year later, the cost for Koontz was $8. 7 million. In December 2005, the contract for Shive totaled $9.8 million.

Christy said Shive Elementary cost almost $3 million more than Millbridge or Koontz because of the rising construction costs and $1.7 million needed to extend water and sewer lines to the school.

Christy renewed the school system’s request to use $1.5 million of the extra dollars to upgrade technology in all of the schools.

Originally, the bond package included that amount for technology improvements, but it was taken out when building costs skyrocketed.

Commissioner Jim Sides said he favors using the money for completing Shive Elementary or paying on the bond debt. Sides said the school system will have sufficient surplus dollars at the end of the fiscal year to invest in technology upgrades.

“That’s a decision for another day,” Chamberlain said, indicating it will be discussed at the board’s retreat in February.

During the discussion of the school construction, newly-seated Commissioner Tina Hall had several questions.

Hall, a retired Rowan-Salisbury principal, asked if the new schools are already full.

Christy said Millbridge is fast approaching capacity. “We will be in trouble very soon,” he said.

And Christy said they could use extra classrooms at Koontz Elementary, which opened in August.

Earlier, Christy explained that both Koontz and Shive are slightly smaller than Millbridge. Classrooms were shaved to reduce expenses.

“We think we will be OK at Shive,” Christy said. “We face a real push in Landis and China Grove.”

Christy said they will bring a revised 10-year school construction plan to commissioners in January.