Thursday, August 14, 2008

High School Project Costs

On Monday the Board heard an update from the architects about the progress being made on the high school renovation project. We also heard from a number of residents regarding the project. One resident's comments in particular hit home with me. One of the things I have been wondering about is how the costs for certain options of this project seem to be out of touch with what was presented to us by Dejong during their research just over 18 months ago (Dejong final summary was released in January 2007).

At the time, Dejong presented four possible alternatives to the community:
Option 1: Renovation came with a cost between $30-50 million
Option 2: 25/75 New/Renovation split at a cost of $60-80 million
Option 3: 50/50 New/Renovation split at a cost of $80-100 million
Option 4: Build a new facility at a cost of $110-120 million

At the July forum we were presented with the following options:
Option 1: Renovate existing structure at a cost of $77.8 million
Option 1a: Renovate structure with significant redesign for $97.3 million
Option 2: 66/33 New/Renovation split at a cost of $118.6 million
Option 3: Build a new facility at a cost of $131.6 million

Two questions really pop up here. First, why is there such a large change for the renovation costs? Renovation costs seem to have increased by almost 100% (using the $40 million midpoint Dejong estimate). Costs for the construction of a new school have only increased just over 10% since Dejong released his study. There may very well be a good explanation for this and I will ask the question of the architect at our next meeting.

Second, what should we expect to pay for construction of a new school? The resident pointed out that RSMeans (a construction data company) uses an approximation of $150/sq foot for our area. Our architects used an approximation of $300 per square foot. RSMeans has a website where you can play with a cost calculator tool. Indeed, after I put in our zip code and square footage, the site spit out the following information:

Understand that the QuickCost Estimator is very limited in the information you can put into the calculation. For instance, if we wanted oak staircases and marble floors there is no way to account for that in this calculator. But it does give us an idea about what we might expect for costs in our area.

If you do the calculation at the high end dividing the $68 million by the 440,000 square feet, then you get a high project cost of $154 sq/ft. When dividing the recently estimated $131.6 by the 440,000 square foot building you get a project cost of $299 per square foot. This is the exact discrepancy that the Mt Lebanon resident pointed out at our last meeting as being unrealistic. Perhaps when we get the construction manager on board these numbers will be revised downward.

One more quick point here. The Bethel Park School Board recently voted to build a new school for their District. The final documents they put out on their website included new construction costs of $204 sq/ft for a new 307,420 square foot building. Something to keep in mind is that their architect also included a 12% escalation in the cost of the entire project. The above linked document is a good place to go to see what other costs you might expect to see added onto our project soon. Additionally, the $204 per square foot price is extremely close to the Pennsylvania Department of Education calculated average cost for new construction of $212 per square foot. I linked to the PDE document in a previous blog post on July 9th. That same document calculates an average cost of $114 per square foot for renovation projects.

Thanks for reading.