Cost of new high schools is elusive

Posted 9/7/23

An executive summary provided by Ellana Construction Consultants shows the projected costs of building new high schools are higher than initially interpreted and portend heated deliberations on Sept. …

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Cost of new high schools is elusive


An executive summary provided by Ellana Construction Consultants shows the projected costs of building new high schools are higher than initially interpreted and portend heated deliberations on Sept. 18 when the City Council considers release of funds from the $350 million bonds approved by voters last November.

Meanwhile School Committee Chair David Testa and School Director of Construction and Capital Projects Steve Gothberg, who have read the summary, say that when contingencies and soft costs are considered estimates are not that far off from one another.

Referring to the 55 % reimbursement from the state, Gothberg said Tuesday that the city will “never get this deal again, ever.” He added should the council defer action on the basis that one school should be built, costs could run out of control or taxpayers can’t afford it, he projected it could take eight to ten years before the district completed the laborious process of Rhode Island Department of Education step approvals, voter approval, council release of funding and finally construction.

By not building new schools, Gothberg says, “we’re basically driving people out (of the city).”

And what of the difference in cost projections, can the schools be built for $350 million?

“None of this is hard numbers,” said Gothberg emphasizing there are conceptual designs and when it comes working plans they will be drawn to the budget. He said adjustments to reduce costs by 10 % can be easily done by reducing space between floors and narrowing corridors that would “affect any educational spaces whatsoever.”

City Council President Steve McAllister sent the Ellana summary to council members last week with the accompanying message:” At the September 18th Warwick City Council meeting, the council will have an agenda item where we will discuss and possibly vote on whether to issue the $350 million bonds to build these schools.  As a reminder, the only authority the city council has at this time is whether to release the bonds or not.  All questions regarding what is or is not going to be built should be referred to the school department and school committee.”

McAllister released the full Ellana report and analysis about two weeks ago, however, without a summary or conclusion, it was hard to compare to the cost projections by architects PM&C and C2E in January to those Ellana provided on Aug. 18. Initially, the Ellana projections for the two schools were viewed as about 5 % more than those made in January. The summary, however, finds Toll Gate costing 6.37 % and Pilgrim 13.24 % more than the earlier estimates.  The summary reads that while Ellana was not involved with value engineering to reduce overall project cost “efforts were made to capture” the value engineering included by the architects.

How the schools differ from what voters were told was going to be built and the current conceptual design is sure to be questioned as well as the larger question of whether to go ahead with the projects.

Barry Cook, president of Warwick Taxpayers Association, said last week he will be looking for a side-by-side comparison of what was first proposed and the overall smaller schools proposed now.

He said he will urge the council “not to release any money until the numbers make sense.”

Former councilman and chair of the school committee, Robert Cushman said Monday he intends to dig into the financing of the two schools and its impact on city finances in the short and long term.

“Problem with the mayor and city council is that they look at these expenses as single expenditures. They need to provide a five and ten year forecast that includes the $29 million and $56 million elementary bonds, $350 million school bonds, $68 million OPEB expense and city and school future operating budgets,” he said in a text.

Testa was not troubled by the interest rates on short term bonding that would be used to finance construction pending state reimbursement. On Monday he pointed out short term municipal bond rates are in the range of 3.5 % and he noted the city could refinance the bonds if rates dropped significantly.

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  • MikkeyDee

    Fix schools...stop with the spend thrift bull

    Sunday, September 10, 2023 Report this