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Unexpected expenses drive up cost of school

April 05, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Unexpected expenses such as a $300,000 sewer hookup fee and millions of dollars for building supports are driving up the price tag of the new Washington High School in Jefferson County, school officials said Wednesday.

During a meeting between the Jefferson County Board of Education and the Jefferson County Commission, the board of education was able to convince the commission to approve close to another $1 million in school impact fee money to pay for the costs.

The school first was projected to cost about $37.9 million, but now will cost about $40.3 million, Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols said.

Washington High School, which is being built adjacent to the Huntfield community about a mile south of downtown Charles Town, is being built on land that is not characteristic of most of the county's geology, school officials said.

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In many parts of the county, there is bedrock that is as close as 6 inches to the top of the ground, Nichols said.

But at the school site, construction workers have had to dig as far as 180 feet to find rock on which to support the building, Nichols said.

Construction crews have had to install concrete piers in the ground to support the high school, driving the cost of the work to $2.5 million, Nichols said.

"Nobody really did anything wrong," Nichols told the commission during a meeting at the board of education's office. It is rather an issue of school officials being "surprised by these little things that have come up," Nichols said.

"It's a very expensive process, and we sure hate to spend a lot of money underground," Board of Education President Pete Dougherty said.

Because the high school will be a public building, school officials thought the sewer hookup fee for the building would be free. But it ended up costing the school system $300,000, Nichols said.

To cover the cost of the unexpected expenses, the county commission and other county government officials told the board of education that the school system could submit a new capital improvement plan that asks for another $900,000 in school impact fees.

School impact fees are collected by the county from developers for each new house built. The money is used for new school construction.

Developers must pay the county $10,655 for every single-family home, and fees for other types of housing.

Washington High School is needed to serve a growing student population in the county. Jefferson High School, the only high school in the county, is more than 30 years old and has had as many as 1,600 students, although it only is designed for 1,200.

An extensive renovation of Jefferson High School is under way, and is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, Nichols said.

Washington High School is more than 50 percent complete and should be completed by about this time next year, Nichols said.

The Washington High School construction has presented other challenges, Nichols said. There is a curved glass wall in the library and when it was being constructed, it was determined that steel beams used to install it were not the right size, Nichols told the commission.

Construction crews corrected the problem at their expense, Nichols said.

Some state officials have said the school is more than their guidelines allow, Board of Education member Alan Sturm said.

"They've called it a Taj Mahal and everything else," Sturm said.

After realizing that the school will have about 1,350 students, state officials have said the school is being under-built, Sturm said.

The basic guiding principle under the county's school impact fee collection process is that half of the fee money is set aside for elementary schools and half is set aside for secondary schools, Dougherty said.

That combined with the fact there is a time limit in which the money can be spent makes it difficult to manage the use of the money, Dougherty said.

The board of education and the commission agreed to work on a plan to get the school system more impact fee money after there was a discussion about allowing more flexibility in the process.

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