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3/14/19 Building a school: Not a bargain

Building a school: Not a bargain
Former Lincoln schools chief warns of rising costs
By Jessica Williams, The Times-News 3/14/19    
Reprinted with permission.
      
Jim Watson warned the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education Tuesday, March 12, that they’re not going to get “a bargain” when building the county’s new high school.

The retired superintendent of Lincoln County Schools told board members, in 2012, nine new schools were constructed in North Carolina. At that time, the cost per square-foot was $146.52. By 2017, it had risen to $201.70.

High schools can be even more costly.

Davidson County’s 200,000-square-foot Oak Grove High School, which opened in 2017, clocked in at $243.83 per square foot, according to Watson.

ABSS has $70 million slated for its 240,000-square-foot high school — around $2.5 million of which would go toward the purchase of land (100 acres, assuming 60 are useable).

“You’re in an escalating climate,” Watson told the board. “You’re in a period of time when a lot of construction’s going on. There’s a lot of construction going on in the public sector. Lots of local school systems have passed local bonds. Lots of public work is going on with universities and community colleges, and the folks that are in this business have no trouble finding work. I guess we would say this is a builder’s climate.”

But there are ways to save money.

Watson presented three different options for building a school:

• Design-Bid-Build (DBB): This is the most common method. The school system selects an architect to design the project and puts it out to bid afterward. In more competitive markets, the bidding process can result in savings.

• Design-Build (DB): In this case, the school system hires an architect and contractor that have formed a partnership. They’re given a budget and are expected to deliver the project within that budget. ABSS used this method with the Elon Elementary School project.

• Construction Manager at Risk (CMaR): The school system hires a Construction Manager (CM) to oversee the construction process. If the project goes over budget, the CM is responsible for paying the difference.

“They all three will work. They all three are acceptable. They all three have been utilized in public schools throughout the state,” Watson said. “So I think it’s sometimes a matter of there being risks and rewards in all three of them. But I think the biggest challenge you have is an escalating cost and a lot of public work out there so contactors pick and choose projects. You’re probably not going to get a bargain. That doesn’t mean you won’t get a good project, but … if they don’t work here, they’ll go down the road 30 miles and find a job.”

Regardless of what option they choose, Watson suggested hiring a project manager to handle the bond work.

“You’ve got to realize the rest of your school system is still operating just as it normally does and all of the needs at all of the other schools are still there,” he said. “So to layer this type of thing on top of existing staff would really be unrealistic.”

Other business


The board approved three contracts allowing REI Engineers Inc. to begin preliminary work for roof replacements at Sellars-Gunn Education Center, E.M. Holt Elementary School and Graham Middle School.

Assistant Superintendent for Operations Todd Thorpe expects construction to begin this summer.