New high school costs skyrocket

 

Phase I of the $166 million Christopher High School has a $124
price tag, triple the original estimate of $39 million, and the
school board is considering asking voters if they’d approve new
taxes. The cost of the new school has risen even as the district
struggles to balance a $4.5 million unrestricted general fund
deficit.
Phase I of the $166 million Christopher High School has a $124 price tag, triple the original estimate of $39 million, and the school board is considering asking voters if they’d approve new taxes. The cost of the new school has risen even as the district struggles to balance a $4.5 million unrestricted general fund deficit.

These days, deep trenches carve up the 40-acre field that is fast becoming CHS. The construction of the state-of-the art facility is proceeding as planned and will open in September 2009, district officials and the architect have said.

The district has confronted many new challenges in order to stay on track. A spike in land – the $6 million estimate for the parcel swelled to $20 million – and construction and materials costs factored into the increase. Skyrocketing fuel prices didn’t help the matter. Former Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Steve Brinkman also pointed out that cost estimates were created back in 2002 and weren’t updated. He mentioned that back in 2005 when the price went up a mere $8 million from $39 to $47 million. A large chunk was a result of increasing construction costs, specifically materials, partly caused by Hurricane Katrina.

“You need to rebuild a huge region of the country … That’s going to throw off the balance of construction and drive up the cost (elsewhere),” he explained.

Also, the initial estimate wasn’t specific enough, Brinkman said. And by the time the board awarded a contract to Cives Steel back in November, steel prices had risen by more than 50 percent.

“Thirty-nine million eight years ago is $80 million today,” architect Paul Bunton of BCA Architects said, attributing the vast difference to unavoidable escalation costs. In order to mitigate this problem when it comes to creating phase II, the district has factored in an extra $12 million for escalation. The price of the high school is $166 million in today’s dollars, Bunton said, but is closer to $180 million considering that phase II won’t be completed until 2012 and including the $12 million escalation factor.

“If we were building Sobrato (High School) today, it would be closer to $150 million,” said Al Solis, director of facilities and maintenance at Morgan Hill Unified School District. In 1999, Sobrato was estimated to cost $52.5 million in hard costs. It ended up costing $70 million in hard costs.

In Gilroy, a steady $15 million facilities gap existed between sources of funding and the district’s total facilities costs. The problem continues with recent news of a shortfall of $3 million for CHS that the district expected in state funding, Bunton said.

The budget also calls for $25 million worth of funding from the sale of two district properties – the old Las Animas School site and the donation of land made by Don Christopher. However, these two properties are not selling in tough economic times and the district is looking at other sources of funding to keep the construction of CHS on schedule.

“We are dealing with a fairly significant cash flow issue in the next months,” said Interim Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Hardy Childers at a March 12 board meeting.

“If that is in fact our situation, it really puts urgency on the issue of the bond,” Trustee Jaime Rosso said. He referred to the price tag of CHS as a “moving target.”

The sale of $33 million in certificates of participation was approved at that board meeting and will largely be used to fund the new high school. Also, taxpayers can expect to be contacted over the next month by a firm the district hired to conduct a voter opinion survey, gauging the community’s reaction to the possibility of a bond and parcel tax on the November ballot.

Meanwhile, construction is progressing smoothly, Bunton said. He works closely with the district to negotiate value engineering ideas and sources of funding and spent that morning meeting with Childers.

“It’s fun to watch,” Childers said, gazing over the plot of land at the corner of Santa Teresa Boulevard and Day Road. “It’s an amazing site.”

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