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Bids for new Bester school come in $4M over budget

district looks to cut costs

Lowest bids for project total about $21.3 million

announcement comes as news to school board members

July 17, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

Bids to build a new Bester Elementary School came in about $4 million over budget, so the school system will try again, Deputy Superintendent Boyd Michael said Tuesday.

Michael said the school system originally estimated the project would cost about $17.3 million.

The lowest bids on 19 separate packages that made up the whole project totaled about $21.3 million, Michael said during a joint meeting of the school board and the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

Michael said school officials will try a few ways to reduce costs. One is increasing the number of bid packages from 19, breaking up the work further to try to attract more bidders and competition.

Another, he said, is putting packages out to bid at both prevailing and nonprevailing wages, referring to a wage standard for an area.

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But even if bids come in lower at nonprevailing wages, the school system isn’t guaranteed to save money.

Michael said the state reimburses 71 percent of the cost of building schools when prevailing wages are used, but a little less than 50 percent of the cost at nonprevailing wages.

Michael said bids were opened July 3. But this apparently was the first time school board members were hearing the news, which didn’t sit well with board member Donna Brightman.

Brightman said she was “uncomfortable” with Michael “dumping new information” that could have been shared with board members previously.

“I’m not a happy camper right now,” she said.

Michael later said the school system posted information about the bids online July 5. He also apologized to Brightman, who replied, “I just don’t like surprises.”

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox apologized for not providing board members with the Bester documents before their morning meeting with the commissioners.

Wilcox said he received information last Thursday about Bester while he was on vacation.

“It was an error of omission by me,” Wilcox said.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham suggested framing the possibilities for savings in a “succinct” way the public can understand.

She asked, for example, if the cost would be within budget if the school were cut from four rounds — the number of classes at each grade level — to three rounds. Michael said it would.

During an interview after the discussion, Michael said three rounds would mean fewer classrooms and larger class sizes.

Michael said he expects the newly configured packages to go out to bid next week and for bids to come back by late August.

School system officials have said they hope to have a new Bester Elementary School ready for the start of the 2014-15 school year.

The plan is to build a new school on the back end of the school property at South Potomac Street and Memorial Boulevard in Hagerstown, replacing the current school.

Staff writer Julie E. Greene contributed to this story.


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