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Costs soar for school renovation

August 16, 2000

Costs soar for school renovation



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


The cost of planned renovations at Williamsport Elementary School has increased by $1.8 million in part because of a tight labor market and the need for an extra 4,400 square feet, the Washington County Board of Education said Tuesday.

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The project's cost is now set at $9.1 million, instead of the expected $7.3 million.

To make up for the $1.8 million increase, the board will delay two other planned projects and ask the county in January for $6.2 million to $6.5 million in capital improvement funds for fiscal 2001-02, Director of Facilities Management Dennis McGee said.

About $700,000 in local money will be saved by putting off renovations at Fountain Rock Elementary School and $200,000 by delaying new athletic fields at North Hagerstown High School, McGee said. And $200,000 is expected to be left over from the second phase of renovations to South Hagerstown High School, McGee said.

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The state will contribute about $800,000.

Preliminary renovations to Fountain Rock Elementary, planned to begin in 2002, included new classrooms, a kitchen and a cafeteria.

"We're not dead with Fountain Rock, we just need more money to do it," McGee said.

He said all of the delayed projects eventually will be completed.

McGee blamed the construction price hikes on increasing labor costs, too many big projects and not enough contractors.

"Most of it is labor and an abundance of projects in the state and around the state," McGee said. "There just aren't as many contractors as there used to be, and there are very few that can build this size (project)."

State officials say the price of building a school is going to jump from $116 per square foot to $136 per square foot by July 2001, a 17 percent increase.

Construction is expected to begin on Williamsport Elementary in 2001 and continue through 2003.

McGee also said that after working with the project's architect in June the board learned it will need an extra 4,400 square feet to accommodate a higher enrollment and other needs of the school, which was built in 1959.

During the 1999-2000 school year, 467 students were enrolled, putting the school at 113 percent of its maximum capacity of 414. After renovations, Williamsport Elementary will hold 584 students.

Additional classroom space, an expanded media center and a new gym are included in the renovations.

McGee said the 40-year-old design of the school will make it hard to meet a state square foot per student requirement without adding the extra space.

"The old building doesn't offer us much flexibility," he said. "There was nothing else we could do about it."

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said the School Board has two options for dealing with rising construction costs.

"We can either adjust the (Capital Improvement Plan) to make this project work or ask the county for more money," Bartlett said.

McGee said he plans to do both. He said adjustments to the Capital Improvement Plan will be presented to the School Board at its Tuesday, Sept. 19, meeting and will ask the County Commissioners for $6.2 million to $6.5 million in January, when the Board will be working on its new Capital Improvement Plan.

The County Commissioners could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"We'll make our case directly with them," McGee said. "We'll be asking for some additional funds."

Washington County isn't the only municipality wrestling with a jump in building costs. McGee said the entire state is having its problems.

Frederick County had to borrow $12 million to complete five building projects rather than delay them, while municipalities must decide whether to scale back projects, ask for more local money or put them on hold.

Other municipalities believe that the prevailing wage law for school projects, which went into effect July 1, could push construction costs even higher. The law requires contractors to pay workers wages based on the average wages of construction workers in each county.

Yale Stenzler, head of school construction at the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction, said he doesn't think the recent hikes in construction costs are a result of the prevailing wage law because the new law didn't go into effect until July 1, after costs had already increased. The Interagency Committee sets the amount that the state will reimburse to public schools.

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