Unexpected expenses and changes to its original plans have created a $2.3 million shortfall for city schools’ planned construction projects. The system is seeking other funding options, but may have to postpone building of a $2.1 million central office. Pictured is the $7.8 million 31-classroom addition at Sylacauga High School that is nearing completion.
SYLACAUGA – Plans for a new central office are in jeopardy as Sylacauga City Schools face a potential $2.3 million deficit for its various construction projects.
In 2011, the system kicked off the first of five planned capital improvement projects totaling an estimated $20 million. Construction began with installation of a new kitchen hood at Indian Valley Elementary School and new gymnasiums at Indian Valley and Pinecrest Elementary that were completed last summer. On the agenda is a four-phase renovation of Sylacauga High School, which is nearing the end of Phase I, and a new central office building.
At a Board of Education work session Thursday night, Chief Financial Officer Lisa Dickerson said unexpected expenses and changes to the original plans has left them with $27 million in total estimated construction costs and only $24.7 million in current funding sources, which means the $2.1 million central office building may be on the chopping block.
“We have to start making decisions,” Dickerson told the board. “What will we leave off or what will we do to make up the shortfall?”
The $2.3 million shortfall accumulated through a number of issues beginning with project cost estimates, which were thought to include furnishings, technology and associated moving expenses, but in actuality only represented the bare buildings. The estimates, from Barganier Davis Sims Architects, also did not account for changes in the economy, most notably a sharp increase in steel prices, Dickerson said.
“There’s no way to say (the money) went to one thing or another,” she said Friday. “We can’t peg it on one thing. It’s just all the projects with us not having furniture costs, moving costs, technology, all of that in there, and then the bid goes up too high. We’re just lucky to do what we can, but we’re trying to do first what affects the students, so that’s why the central office has gotten lower and lower on the list.”
Documents provided to school board members Thursday outlined the expected versus actual expenses for completed and ongoing projects. Overall, construction projects total roughly $500,000 more than originally estimated at this point. Additional expenses for the SHS renovation and central office are predicted at about $1.4 million to account for furniture, moving services, technology and other items.
Other projects totaling $560,315 have also recently been completed using funds designated for the improvement projects, largely to benefit student safety. The schools spent $260,000 for a systemwide computer server switch, $70,000 for door locks and cameras, $52,500 for bus video systems, $157,500 for classroom flooring and $20,300 for several smaller projects. Another $146,000 is set aside for summer maintenance projects.
According to the provided documents, the actual cost of the Indian Valley kitchen hood was about $30,900 more than the $150,000 estimate, and the Indian Valley gym was $297,800 more than its $800,000 estimate.
The Pinecrest gym came in at about $1.7 million, which is $879,000 more than the original estimate. The drastic increase occurred when the structure was expanded from a half-size gym to a full-size competition gym with softball locker rooms, bathrooms, special education classrooms, storage and an asphalt drive around the softball field.
Phase I of SHS, a 31-classroom addition, actually bid $631,600 under the estimate and is still within its $7.8 million budget. The school system is now seeking ways to reduce costs for Phases II – IV (Phase III was recently split into two, making it a four-phase project) without affecting the quality of the renovated areas that are promised to be state-of-the-art. The lowest bid for Phase II, which entails renovating the front entrance and administrative offices, was about $200,000 over the $2.3 million estimate. BDS has asked the low bidder, Zedot Construction, for suggestions on what could be changed or eliminated to reduce the bid.
Because student-centered improvements are the priority, the central office has been pushed to the bottom of the list, despite the deplorable condition of the 61-year-old building, which has extensive roof and ceiling damage, mold and other serious issues. The BOE initially planned to replace the building’s roof, estimated at $375,000 in 2010, but instead decided to construct a new office after it was decided repairing the current building is not worth the investment.
Now, it is considering moving into an existing building, which would save about $400,000, and possibly refinancing its $16 million bond through the city to net about $295,000 more without extending the 30-year term of the bond.
Funding sources that were acquired for school construction are as follows: $16 million through a city bond issue; $5 million through a federal school construction bond; $250,000 in local capital project funds; $3.1 million in public school funds for fiscal years 2010-2015; and $445,000 in PCSA funding.
During the BOE work session, board member Steve Marlowe said his biggest concern is meeting the public’s expectations of the renovations with the money available. “I don’t want us to say we took something out so we could make the budget,” he said. “Whatever we told the people, I really think we need to make sure we deliver that product.”
The BOE decided to continue discussions about possible funding options after its called meeting May 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the central office.
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.