(May 1, 2015) Back in April, the Worcester County Commissioners discussed a trip to Anne Arundel County’s Lothian Elementary School in early May to see the facility and how it was done on a budget of approximately $33 million.
The idea was to compare that project with the Showell Elementary School replacement project, the estimates for which exceed $50 million and are climbing.
One difference between the two projects that the commissioners and Board of Education already know is that delays in funding are pushing the projected building costs higher.
Replacing Showell Elementary School was named the No. 1 priority of the commissioners this term, according to a recently released strategic plan, but the project remains stuck in the design phase.
According to the board’s public information coordinator, Barb Witherow, the commissioners have not yet approved funding for that.
“It’s fair to call it a fact-finding mission,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said of the trip to Anne Arundel. “Between $32 and $34 million is certainly less than $52 million. That’s a lot of money for a person in Showell.” Commissioners Bertino and Ted Elder are the only two names made public on a task force dedicated to solving the Showell Elementary School issue.
“We’re dealing with a very general concept. A sketch outline before we proceed to an architectural design. There’s no design yet,” Board President M. Jim Bunting said, “It’s best to see a school built to the Maryland standard.”
Built to Maryland standards it may be, but comparing Anne Arundel County apples to Worcester County apples is more challenging.
The Anne Arundel school district is the 46th largest in the United States and the fifth largest in Maryland.
Lisa Seaman-Crawford, the director of facilities for Anne Arundel schools, said she manages 126 facilities, with 121 of them being schools. The Worcester County district is composed of 14 schools.
Seaman-Crawford said she manages three to four construction projects per year using a construction management agency. Every three years the county puts out a request for purchase and rotates through contractors, she continued.
Anne Arundel schools are built based on a prototype template, meaning almost all of the schools have somewhat similar design specifications. The Lothian school, she said, was able to realize savings both because the county already owned the property on which it was built, and the students at Lothian could be moved to a neighboring middle school during construction. The school is expected to be open for the next school year.
Witherow said the projected timeline for the construction of the Showell replacement is nine months shorter than Lothian’s 24-month schedule, due in part to the smaller footprint of the 22,000-square foot school, which will serve almost 100 more students.
“We don’t get maintenance funds, so we build to last 40 or 50 years,” Seaman-Crawford said.
Seaman-Crawford said if the Lothian school project were put to bid in 2018, as the Showell school is still projected to at this point, the cost would be closer to $39 million.
“We think it is a beneficial practice to continually examine statewide school construction costs, especially as we approach the design phase of a new project,” Jerry Wilson, superintendent of schools said, according to Witherow. “Most importantly, it reminds us that construction costs increase over time, making any delay in the design/build schedule quite expensive.”
The school board believes time is the most important factor when dealing with construction.
“The primary factor associated with the increase is time. We built Ocean City Elementary School in 2005 at a cost of $141 per square foot. Three years later … the bids for the Pocomoke High School project came in at $238 per square foot,” Joe Price, facilities planner for the schools said, according to Witherow.
Securing contractors is also a concern for the schools.
“Worcester County does not have an abundance of potential bidders like the western shore. On our most recent project, Snow Hill High School, five of our contractors are from the Eastern Shore while 12 are from the western shore and two are from Pennsylvania. Travel and mobilizing personnel and equipment impact the costs associated with bids, and therefore, construction costs,” Witherow quoted Price as saying.