School Construction Costs

Open Letter

Dear Editor

As we have started a new school year, it’s time to renew thoughts about safety for our most precious resource, the children of our community.

With the condition of its older facilities in mind, the district last year ordered a facilities study done by M.B. Kahn Construction. Every board action mentioned except as noted was done just prior to the 2018 election in which I was elected. The board spent about $100,000 to outline the condition of our existing schools. While I believe the resulting report in large part was simply a compilation of wish lists from school principals which could have been done by the district at little or no additional cost, it did highlight some glaring safety concerns. The report identified almost $7 million of safety issues which could be addressed immediately if funds were available.

There is a movement afoot within the board to start construction on the Amicks Ferry Elementary School (Elementary School # 13) before a Guaranteed Maximum Price is produced. The way the Construction Manager at Risk method of contracting works is the district selected its Construction Manager at Risk by establishing a guesstimate amount for total project construction costs and the then negotiated fees with its preferred contractor.

Once the drawings and contract documents are done to a certain point of completion but not fully 100 precent , the Construction Manager at Risk is supposed to present a Guaranteed Maximum Price to the board for agreement prior to commencement of construction. Neither triggering event has occurred. However, the district now desires to start construction with an Early Site Package before establishment of the Guaranteed Maximum Price. My concern is that we should know the total project costs before committing to the documents not yet presented to the board.

Drilling down, my reasoning is more fully explained below:

The guesstimate amount used by the board to select the Construction Manager at Risk was $24 million exclusive of design fees, furniture fixtures and equipment and land. Design fees are approximately $1,620,000 and a reasonable FF&E allowance is $750,000 for a total of approximately $26.4 million. The board as it existed in 2017 paid almost $1 million on the land purchase which I am left to believe came from the Fund Balance account. Land is not included in this discussion.

Yet, the board over the objection of Jan Hammond and I approved the sale of 8 percent Funds General Obligation Bonds in the amount of $30 million.

My contention after study which I presented to the board in February,2019 is that the national median price for construction of an elementary school is $19.6 million for a school the size of ours planned at 105,000 square feet of space. In North Carolina last year, their average size elementary school was 119,532 square feet or 14,532 square feet more than ours for $22,304,000 while we plan to spend a minimum of $24,0000 for 105,000 square feet. Our new school as presently planned will have a capacity of 650 children on two floors. The wasted space used in transition for stairways and the like reduces the usable square footage. We are beneficiaries, as everyone knows, of lower construction costs of like projects in Columbia than the national average. According to 2019 R.S. Means Construction Costs our costs are 84.2 percent of the national average. Nevertheless, at $24 million construction costs we will spend $4.4 million more than the national average and, if the costs range as high as $30 million which is amount bonds were issued, $8 million more than the national average.

I realize that the leadership of the board placed itself in a bind by not planning 10 years after the voters approved the 2008 bond referendum. That referendum included a new elementary school on the Derrick’s Pond site. It was never built and the funds were used elsewhere. But, throwing money at a problem because of the lack of prior planning is seldom a good idea. We should put the brakes on this plan, debate how much should reasonably be spent on the new school, the size desired and then put the remainder of the $30 million into much needed safety issues at the existing schools.

Board members who are not also officers have little power because we cannot set the agenda. It follows that the ability to discuss things is jealously guard by those who do. Those of us who are not also board officers are only told of leadership’s plans just before board meetings. There are two board officers from Lexington County. If you believe as I do, then please let them know.

Thank you and please assist us in having a safe and productive school year.

Ken Loveless

School District 5 Trustee