Can We Build Schools Better, Faster, and Cheaper?

Parents have raised concerns in recent weeks about the projected construction costs of Prince William County’s 12th high school.  The school, which is set to open in September 2016 in the Independent Hill area of Prince William County, has a projected construction cost of $110,943,000.  Of particular concern to some parents are the school division’s plans to include a pool in the 12th high school.

The projected cost of this school has many county residents asking if PWCS is building schools that are more expensive than they should be.

As luck would have it, both Loudoun and Prince William County opened new high schools between 2010 and 2012.  How do the costs compare?

Loudoun opened Tuscarora High School in September 2010, Prince William opened Patriot High School in September 2011, and Loudoun opened Champe High School in September 2012.  All three schools are used energy efficient designs, materials, and systems and are LEED certified.  Loudoun builds schools in 18 months while Prince William builds schools in 24 months.

County High School Bid Awarded Fall Opened Construction Cost Square Footage Cost Per Sq Ft Student Capacity SQ Ft Per Student
Loudoun Tuscarora 2009 2010 60,627,353 285,000 213 1,800 158
PWCS Patriot 2009 2011 70,700,000 318,000 222 2,053 155
Loudoun Champe 2011 2012 60,762,000 285,000 213 1,800 158

Loudoun’s schools were built to house 1,800 students while Prince William’s school was built for 2,053.  More students means you need more classrooms and parking spaces and more square footage for the cafeteria, hallways, gyms, bathrooms, etc.   More square footage means increased cost, and, as you can see, Patriot has greater square footage and greater cost.  In fact when it comes to square footage per student, Patriot High school has less square footage per student than Tuscarora or Champe, which makes the cost per square foot even more curious.

While Patriot high school has less square feet per student, it’s cost per square foot is higher.  Why?  Remember, this is construction costs only and both Prince William and Loudoun used energy efficient designs, materials, and systems when planning and building the schools and all three schools are LEED certified.

Loudoun just awarded a bid to build their next high school.  Like Champe and Tuscarora, it will be 285,000 square feet, will use energy efficient designs, materials, and systems, and will be built to house 1,800 students.  The school is expected to open in the Fall of 2014.  The bid award was $63,520,051 which is about 4.5% more than the cost of Champe.

Prince William plans to open a new high school in the Fall of 2016.  Like Patriot, it will be built to house 2,053 students and will use energy efficient designs, materials, and systems.  The actual cost of this school is unknown as the project hasn’t gone to bid.  The CIP lists the projected cost of the 12th high school at $110,943,000.

I have no idea if the projected cost of the 12th high school is or is not reasonable.  It may be that $111 million is a reasonable price for a 2,053 student high school with a pool, but it may also be that PWCS isn’t building schools are cost effectively as possible. Since the 12th high school hasn’t gone to bid yet, shouldn’t PWCS take the time to consider whether the 12th highs school is as cost effective as it could be?

In fact, if Loudoun can build an 1,800 student high school for $64 million in 18 months, could PWCS do the same?  And if PWCS could do the same, even if the cost was $70,000,000, shouldn’t we consider it?  With student growth in the county continuing to increase at the highest rate in the state and two high schools planned between now and 2019, if we could build two 1,800 student high schools for $140 million by 2016, shouldn’t we consider it?  Adding 3,600 high school seats in 2016 would give the school division the extra seats we need to meet current needs, with some left over for the growth that’s coming, and might mitigate concerns about the debt ceiling causing the 13th high school to be pushed back.

If PWCS can build schools better, faster, and cheaper, shouldn’t we?

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