RSS board dealing with sticker shock on new school

Published 12:10 am Thursday, September 15, 2022

SALISBURY — For a number of years, a new K-8 school building has been on the agenda of the Rowan-Salisbury School district, and before the pandemic, $55 million had been earmarked for the project.

But the pandemic caused the board of county commissioners to freeze that funding until September of 2021. Since that time, the estimated costs have ballooned to between $71 and $90 million.

Monday night, the board of education got an update on the timeline and the overall cost of the project, which is still in the planning stage.

The plan shown Monday still has a softball field but David Barnhill of LS3P Associates said they have determined that a full-sized baseball field would fit on the site, but it might mean a slight reduction in the size of a practice field.

However, the overarching concern is the large increase in anticipated costs.

Those involved in the project were on site recently, since the project has been off and online several times over recent years, confirming the number of classrooms, programs, adjacencies that are needed because it was noted it is much easier to address those needs in the design phase.

A general timeline was offered in terms of cost estimates and work: Nov. 14, the plan is to reach out to subcontractors to get current market feedback, but the bidding period is estimated to be March 6-29, 2023, and it is expected the district will have a guaranteed market price or GMP by mid to late April 2023.

Construction of phase I, which is the school building itself, is expected to take 15-16 months. The current plan is to keep students at Knox and Overton schools during construction, with fencing around the construction area. Once the school building is complete, students would be moved into the new building, and the fencing would remain in place while Knox and Overton were demolished and then the site work was completed, including athletic fields.

Marty Moser, vice president of Barnhill Contracting, Inc. said the question on everyone’s mind is the cost, and if there is any way to bring it down, and he said “we’re not sure how we’re going to make it happen, but we’re hoping if at all possible to beat an April bid date.”

We have a lot of empty middle school seats across the district and a lot of empty elementary school seats across the district,” said board member Travis Allen. “Would it make more sense economically if we just did it all at once instead of in two phases?”

Anthony Vann, chief operations officer, said “there probably would be some savings, but some of those might be zeroed out by transportation costs.”

Additionally, it was noted that the majority of the cost increase is for materials, not labor, and pushing the projects together would see a labor savings by compressing the construction duration, but it will not affect the materials cost.

“I am just so worried about selling $70 to $90 million to the board of commissioners, the people who have the money,” Travis “They chose to freeze the funds and that’s why the cost is higher.”

The organizations working on the project did agree to return to the board with a cost estimate for putting the two projects together so the board can see if there are worthwhile savings. In either case, it is estimated that the school will be ready for students by early 2024.

And Vann said that although the district was not awarded the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund grant on the first round, the district is still in the running.

“They notified us that if we still have a viable project in Phase I, we are still eligible for consideration,” he said. “We said we do still have a viable project and want to be considered.” Vann said he asked if they could qualify for additional funds since the project includes an elementary and middle school and was told no, the district can only get the higher $40 million for the middle school project. Those funds would have to be matched by the district, but Vann said those grant monies could still come.