PWCS is looking at incurring $505 million in debt in the next 5 years for new school construction and renovations and expansions of existing schools. That’s a lot of money, money which will have to be paid back by taxpayers as debt service over the next 20 years.
Debt service money, which is the interest and principal on the bonds we issue to pay for school construction, comes from the school division’s annual allocation of tax receipts from PWC. PWCS currently spends over $1 billion annually to operate our public schools and pay our school related debt service. If debt service costs go up we have to either reduce the amount allocated to operating the schools or ask the BOCS for more money (aka raise taxes).
Because those bonds will have to be paid back, with interest, how much our school division pays to build, renovate, or expand schools is something we should all pay attention to.
Our current model is to build high schools that house 2,053 students in grades 9 -12. The last three high schools PWCS built were Patriot, Battlefield, and Freedom High Schools. Each was built to house 2,053 students.
Battlefield High School opened in the Fall of 2004 and cost $36 million to build.
Freedom High School opened in the Fall of 2004 cost $40 million to build.
Patriot High School opened in the Fall of 2011 and cost $70 million to build.
When I’ve asked about these increases, which seem a bit high to me, I’ve been told that the state has changed the requirements for new school construction and that construction costs, after decreasing in the crash, have begun to increase again. Freedom was built in a wetland, so it’s site development costs were higher and Patriot was built in the rural crescent so the school division had to bring water and sewer to the site. Clearly some of the difference in cost is due to changes in state requirements, issues with the sites, and changes in construction costs. I don’t doubt that at all.
It’s what I haven’t been told that concerns me.
Battlefield and Freedom were build from the same design. Patriot used a new design. How much of the increase between Freedom / Battlefield and Patriot was due to the design change and how much was due to site issues or increases in construction costs? I have no idea. All I’ve been told is that we want our students in schools that have the latest in technology and reflect what we’ve learned about the best environment for learning.
Loudoun County has used the same design for new high schools since 1999. It’s been adapted for each site and revised as needed when state requirements for new school construction have changed, but it’s the same basic design. Loudoun awarded the bid to build their next high school, HS-6, a couple of weeks ago. The school will house 1800 students, will open in the Fall of 2014, and will share a site with Rose Lee Carter Elementary School. The bid to build the school was $63,520,051.
That’s 18 months to build a high school for 1800 students at a cost of $64 million in Loudoun.
In Prince William we build schools for 2053 students – 253 more than this school in Loudoun. Ignoring site issues, if we used Loudoun’s design to house 2,053 students, we’d be looking at construction costs of $73 million; $78 million if you assume 4% inflation per year with a Fall of 2016 opening date.
PWCS’s 12th high school will open in the Fall of 2016 and is projected to cost $111 million to build.
Apparently, in Prince William County, it costs $33 million more to build a high school than it does in Loudoun County.