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Bids to build new Bester Elementary School come in over budget again

August 28, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — The second round of bids for construction of a new Bester Elementary School again came in over budget, according to bid information and Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael.

With the most recent bid information, which was being evaluated to make sure it meets requirements, school system staff plan to recommend the Washington County Board of Education approve bids with nonprevailing wages for the school project, Michael said Tuesday. The project was discussed during a Tuesday morning school board Facilities Committee meeting. Two board members, who are committee members, were at the meeting.

Nonprevailing wages would bring the job in at a lower price than using prevailing wages, but that lower price would be offset by the fact the state pays a lower percentage for projects that do not pay prevailing wages. The state would contribute 49.9 percent of funding for eligible construction costs for the project if it pays nonprevailing wages, compared with funding 71 percent of those costs if the project pays prevailing wages, Michael said.

The county’s cost, if using nonprevailing wages, was not available Tuesday because that figure could not be determined until staff knew which bids would be approved, said Rob Rollins, director of facilities planning and development.

In all cases, the project would cost Washington County more money than if bids had come in at the budgeted amount, Michael said.

Michael did say the county’s share of the project would be approximately $500,000 more with prevailing wages than if the school system goes with nonprevailing wages under the latest bid.

The bids are expected to be presented to the school board at its Sept. 4 meeting, Michael said.

If the school board approves bids for the construction project, the school system would still need to get the green light from the County Commissioners because the project would cost the county more, Michael said.

The next joint meeting between the school board and commissioners is Sept. 11, he said.

Michael would not speculate on what other school construction or systemic projects could be affected if the county does not have additional funding for Bester.

Michael would not release the bid totals from the latest round of bids because they had not been presented to the school board yet.

Using bid information at the school system’s website, and calculating the lowest bid package for both wage options for the Bester project, the approximate cost of the construction work sent out to bid is $20.98 million paying prevailing wages and $18.6 million paying nonprevailing wages. Those figures include alternate items that the school system might not use.

Prevailing wages are higher than nonprevailing wages, Michael said.

The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation sets prevailing wages for such projects, Rollins said. The wages are set for each type of worker, determined by prevailing wages in that area of the state for that type of construction, according to the state agency’s website.

The total budget for the new Bester Elementary School is $23 million, according to the school system’s state capital improvement program for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The state’s share would be $10.2 million and the county’s share would be $12.8 million, according to the document.

That budget was set with prevailing wages, Michael said. Part of the Bester project had already been awarded so those totals do not represent the budget for the last two rounds of construction bids for the new school, he said.

School system officials expected the major construction bid package for Bester to cost approximately $17 million, Rollins said. But both times it was bid, it came in over budget.

During a July 17 meeting with the school board and County Commissioners, Michael said the first round of bids for a new Bester school totaled about $21.3 million.

In general, construction costs came in high because of the market, but Michael said the projected costs were furthest off for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning work.

Bester Elementary, at the corner of South Potomac Street and East Memorial Boulevard, was built in 1930 as South Potomac Junior High School. An addition was built in 1965 and the school was renovated in 1988.

The school system plans to have a new Bester Elementary School built behind the current school building and then have the old school razed.

Despite the need for a second round of bids, Michael said the school is still on track to open in August 2014. If the board approves the bids next week and funding is not an issue, it would take about a month or so for the contractors to start work, he said.

The new school would be a four-round school, meaning it would have four classrooms for each grade level.

The projected enrollment for Bester is not expected to meet the state-rated capacity for the school, over a period of several years, Michael said. Because of that, the state will not support funding the project as a four-round school, but would fund it at a level that is a little more than three rounds, Michael said. County officials already were aware the county would have to pick up the extra cost to make the new Bester a four-round school, he said.

School system officials wanted Bester to have four classes per grade in order to maintain a low class size, Michael said.

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