I think Amos has been reading this blog

…really, I think he has. I mean, why else would GCS Board member Amos Quick unleash a tirade of anger toward GCS facilities honcho Joe Hill last night over what is being coined “an $88 million school.”

And the best thing about Quick being very…quick…(sorry) was that he was absolutely correct. His anger was justified.

I wrote yesterday that the proposed-nearly-half-a-billion-dollar bond referendum slated for next May’s primary ballot was going to grow because of “inflationary costs.” This discussion took place last night at the board meeting. And it made for an interesting dialogue.

An excerpt from this morning’s News & Record:

In other business, board members decided they will hash out the new cost figures for a proposed 2008 bond referendum at a board retreat later this month. District officials have revised the amount from $440 million to $454.8 million to account for additional inflation if an election is postponed from November to May.

Board members balked at recommendations from facilities staff to add an additional $47.9 million to expand a proposed North Greensboro elementary school, restore $6 million to the costs of an airport-area high school and add an airport-area middle school. That would bring the total bond amount to $502.7 million.

“No offense, but the board had previously made the decision …” Anita Sharpe told facilities staff Joe Hill and Leo Bobadilla. “I don’t think the administration has any right to come back to us and tell us to modify this list.”

A flustered Amos Quick challenged an $88 million cost estimate for the airport-area high school.

“We’re talking about an $88 million school?” Quick asked. “You know how close that is to $100 million?”

Hill, the district’s facilities consultant, tried to explain that the price includes about $45.4 million in construction costs and the rest in design fees, land costs, furniture and equipment.

“Perhaps we need to look somewhere else (to build) because still, it’s going to be $88 million,” Quick said. “To some people, believe it or not, that’s not acceptable.”

Quick is right…it is not acceptable.

My friend and former news colleague Sam Hieb, who’s a blogger for Piedmont Publius, an arm of the Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation, commented on his blog yesterday:

…It’ll never end. I assume the Guilford County Board of Education thinks it’s doing the public a favor by letting them know up front the delay in getting the school bond on the ballot will jack the price up another $15 million due to – you guessed it – rising construction costs. This is getting old, man. Instead of the constant moaning and groaning, you’d think the board would do something about it.

Then an interesting comment, that requires some mandatory reading by all of us (and I’ll be passing this on to Amos Quick myself). This was from Terry Stoops, education policy analyst for the John Locke Foundation:

Isn’t it just, well, typical that the school board’s answer to rising construction costs is to extort more money from taxpayers, rather than reduce construction costs? Why not cut all of those athletics facilities projects from the proposed building program before asking for an additional $15 million?

E.C. Huey is right about school construction in Forsyth County. Among growing school systems, they still have the best building program of any district in the state. The GCS school board needs to take the short trip to Winston-Salem and see the schools for themselves. (Sam and I did last year and I wrote a Spotlight, “The Forsyth Formula,” as a result.) They would see, as I did, quality built schools that cost a fraction of those in the GCS building program.

One more thought about construction cost inflation. It is happening, but costs increases have moderated since 2006 and we are not seeing the steep increases we did between 2003 to 2005. In North Carolina, the average cost per square foot barely increased over the last two years.

Slam Dunk, Mr. Stoops.

So I did some poking around this morning, and I found the report released last Spring (click here) and the companion press release (click here). And Stoops is right…in this JLF investigation, Winston-Salem has built schools at costs below the state averages for these projects.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth shows that the way to build cost-effective schools is to focus on function and finances, not features and frills,” Stoops said in last year’s press statement from JLF.

We must have taxpayer money to burn. But we don’t. And Amos’ tirade was justified.

E.C. 🙂


6 Responses

  1. Erik,
    I am finishing up stories on construction costs/trends and I can tell you that while Forsyth does try to keep its projects lean, it has benefited in large part from the timing of its construction. One Forsyth official said that Reagan would have had similar per square foot costs as Northern High if it had been bid in 2005 instead of 2003. Moreover, Forsyth is having to go back and add a 20-classroom addition to Reagan two years after opening because the school’s enrollment has already surpassed projections.

    Last, the school board has not made the decision to keep or cut projects. They are reserving that discussion for its board retreat on Sept. 22. So it looks like some have jumped the gun on asking why the board hasn’t tried to cut the list before asking the public to take on an additional $15 million in debt.

  2. Morgan — Is that a solid comparison, considering the fact that the projected cost of the airport-area high school is more than double the cost of Northern? (The latest figure I saw on Northern was $42 million.) And yes, the board may end up cutting projects, but that will be due to the high cost of that school.

    The way I see it, the problem is the system is asking the public to believe that construction costs are increasing exponentially, with no end in sight to the bond debt they’re being asked to carry. If construction costs are truly rising the way GCS says they are, then they — and — we are in a lot of trouble, right? The problem is the board and the system seem to be throwing up their hands and just saying ‘that’s the way it is’ instead of reassuring the public that they’re working on some solutions. That’s the way I see it, at least.

  3. Morgan, I’ll agree to an extent that timing is everything, but W-S seems to be more prudent and efficient in their building. I mean, do we really need toilets with recycled rainwater? I know it is environmentally-friendly, but that is a luxury, not a necessity. And Sam’s right, we need a system that will act as though they are hammering out a solution and not whining about a problem.

  4. Forsyth may have benefited on timing of Reagan and Atlkins, but the reality is that those two schools were both built at the cost of Northern, or at least what we think was the cost of Northern. You see, no firm cost for Northern has ever been released, whereas, Forsyth reported it’s costs for both schools at $48 million. So, we are to believe that construction costs doubled in Guilford from 2003 to 2005? I would have a difficult time believing that.

    Yes, Reagan has already found it necessary to add a wing to the school, but the plans contemplated the addition of such a wing, when necessary, and made it easy to add. Forsyth floated a bond in 2006 for $5 million for the wing. This brought the total for Reagan to about $30 million. Atkins was built on the same plan, and can be expanded as well when necessary, although that area hasn’t experienced the same rapid growth as the Pffaftown area that is served by Reagan.

    Simply put, if GCS wants their megabond to be approved, they are going to have to build trust with the community that they are fiscally responsible with taxpayer money. Taxpayers don’t have a problem with their taxes increasing, as long as they are assured it will be put to efficient and effective use. At this time, that trust does not exist, and any new bond effort will be trounced. Remember, Terry Grier is on record as saying that they never promise that the projects on a bond list will all be built as proposed. We should believe him on this.

  5. The bottom line here is that no one seems to give a damn. It’s disgustingly obvious that Guilford County School Board Members allow no-bid contracts to go unchecked as well as basic construction costs. It seems we always hire some outside consultant (at the taxpayer’s expense) to tell the board what they want to hear. Well, I’m done. I will not stand for it anymore. I will not allow the likes of Denna Hayes and Co. (CoMor Construction) to pilfer my hard earned tax dollars anymore. I demand she disclose her relationship with them. I demand fairness and justice. We need to get off of our apathetic asses and demand transparency!

    I’m not going to take it anymore!!!

  6. Bill, I’m not sure if I could have voiced this any better! It’s going to be one heck of a year.

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