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School construction costs upset Wake commissioners

Posted August 17, 2009

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— Members of the Wake County Board of Commissioners expressed anger and frustration Monday about cost overruns in the planning of a new high school northeast of Raleigh.

The Wake County school district budgeted $1.7 million for road work at Forest Ridge High School, for example, but district officials recently told county officials that those costs would be at least $7.4 million.

Wake County Public School System Officials irked by cost overruns at planned school

"Is this the result of incompetence, or was there a willful intent to mislead us?" a seething Commissioner Paul Coble asked.

Coble said school district officials repeatedly told commissioners that a site near the intersection of U.S. Highway 401 and Forestville Road was the best site for a planned high school and that other sites in the area were too expensive or wouldn't fit plans for the school.

"We need to stop wasting money taxpayers don't have," he said, suggesting that the extra money be spent on finding a new site for the school.

The Board of Commissioners needs to assert more financial oversight over the school district to ensure money is spent efficiently, Commissioner Tony Gurley said.

"This is a perfect example of how we should start holding them accountable," Gurley said. "We, as a board, should right now put a stop to the wasteful spending on this project."

Gurley and Coble predicted the district would scrap plans for a football stadium at the school – it could share the stadium at nearby Heritage High School – to make up for the cost overruns and then seek commissioners' approval later for adding a football stadium to a future bond issue.

No one from the school board or school district administration attended the commissioners' meeting, and Commissioners Stan Norwalk and Lindy Brown said they wanted to hear a detailed explanation from school district officials before skewering them.

Norwalk said he was curious if details about the project had changed over time.

County Manager David Cooke noted the state Department of Transportation initially said few road improvements would be needed and that Raleigh officials said Canyon Drive, a proposed road that also will connect to a middle school planned for the area, wouldn't need to meet the requirements of a city street. Now, he said, the DOT wants more road improvements, and Raleigh wants Canyon Drive to be a city street.

The $73 million high school is slated to open in 2012. The opening date was pushed back by a year because the slow economy and the tight bond market affected the school district's construction schedule.

Commissioner Joe Bryan said he was "personally very embarrassed" but the cost overruns.

"We've got these checklists in place, and we still make this type of mistake," Bryan said. "Both boards, quite frankly, look like we don't know what we're doing."

The cost dispute allowed some earlier opponents to the planned Forest Ridge High site to once again argue that the school should be built at another location.

"I think now is the time to stand up and tell the Wake County schools, 'This is enough. We're going to find another site,'" Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles said. "If Wake County public schools continues to insist on the site, taxpayers should get a permit to picket Wake public schools, and I think we ought to carry a bucket of tar, some feathers and a rail."

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  • hkypky Aug 19, 2009

    SilverWolf: I suppose that you could have two discussions here. One being on the overrun and that it was a surprise to anyone .... and the other being the actual amount/percentage of the overrun in the first place.

    Let's look at, arguably, the easy one; and that the Wake Commissioners were only surprised by the higher cost. Your statements (which I don't doubt) would suggest they should not have been surprised at all and that some known fudge factor to deal with the beaurocracy and the DOT shell game should have been applied to this.

    Result, sad as it may be, no shock to anyone that it cost what it did.

  • agentm Aug 18, 2009

    I agree it should be one design for middle one design for elem and HIGh and they need to build them bigger ......

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Aug 18, 2009

    Build these schools and we'd drastically cut costs and build time...and our kids would be safe (really safe) inside.

    http://www.monolithic.com/topics/buy-a-school

    They pay for themselves in 20 years with saved heating/cooling & maintenance costs. They last centuries not decades. They're basically tornado, hurricane & fire proof.

  • superman Aug 18, 2009

    Yep, 15 to 20 acres of prime vacant land is so easy to find. And the price is so reasonable too! You can find that much acreage close by any neighborhood. No competition for the land either, no one else wants it for a shopping center, apartment complex or office center. The larger the plot of land is, the more expensive as it expands the useage. If you want cheap land you wont find it in Wake County. And then the CC baulk at the price of land too! Complain, complain, complain. Things are realy so cheap now--The CC just grasping for straws so they can TRY to control the schools. The CC fund the schools not control them.

  • colliedave Aug 18, 2009

    I feel that each school is costing too much. There should be one design in Wake County for an Elementary School, one design for a Middle School and one design for a High School. They should be simple and cost effective. Is that too much to ask?

    Ditto..there needs to be an overall master plan. When a new school is needed simply look for property that will fit the school.

  • SilverWolf Aug 18, 2009

    hkypky...

    No, not trying to justify it at all, just stating why cost overruns are so prevalent in the construction industry and State Gov. specifically. Most times there is no clear line of authority on State projects. Any number of people can be in charge with the left hand being blind to what the right hand is doing. In this particular instance, DOT is to blame for the inflated cost due to a change in policy of what they want. In my estimation, DOT should not be charging schools for roads that only connect to the school, however it is common practice at DOT to stick whomever they can with the final bill. DOT is a constant problem in most of my projects and the inflated cost of meeting their demands can sometimes be a deal-killer.

  • Mommyoftwo Aug 18, 2009

    Part of the problem is Wake County Schools signing CONTRACTS that indicate what the cost will be and then honoring MILLIONS of dollars that were increases the contractors added in later. They never hold the contractors or architects, wrokers, etc. to the contracts they sign so all vendors just increase their prices at will KNOWING they will get the money!

    Good for the Mayor of Rolesville to stand up to them. And good to Wake County Comm. for blasting them. Don't give them the money!!

    Obviously they don't need it too badly, they didn't even bother to show up to the meeting when it was being discussed!

  • hkypky Aug 18, 2009

    SilverWolf: First off, great replies and it appears you are more than familiar with the processes involved in the design and construction of schools.

    Problem I have is that you appear to be offering justification
    for something projected to have cost $1.7M that eventually came in at $7.4M.

    I'm not sure whether the answer here is that Wake County needs to hire more people like you or to make they don't.

  • Nothing New Aug 18, 2009

    Again, the school board only presents to us what has been given to them by the school system. They may discuss budgets, ask questions here and there, but do you really think they develop budgets, building projects? That is done by the school administration, not the board. Do you think the board members actually goes in and investigates budgets and costs? They again only present to us what is given to them. They can only defend these budgets on what they have been told and presented to them. The board is only a shield for the school system administration.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Aug 18, 2009

    It's amazing. The county school board is finally outraged at the cost overruns and wasteful spending in general by the school board.

    This kind of wasteful spending by the school board should be stopped immediately.

    No wonder people no longer believe the request for increased budgets by the school board.

    Even the school board's line that it's for the benefit of the children no longer flies with the public.

    If they want to reduce wasteful spending, the first thing they should do is stop forced busing for socio-economic (race) based reasons. This would result in a significant savings from the reduced use of diesel fuel.

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