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Panel Examines Cost Of Building New Wake Schools

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WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — Sanford Creek Elementary is one of Wake County's newest projects. The school will hold over 650 students, at a cost of over $19 million.

"This group should be able to give me confidence that when we're spending taxpayer money, we're doing it wisely and efficiently," said Wake County commissioner Tony Gurley.

Commissioners have approved a $970 million bond issue to go before Wake County voters this fall. However, most voters in the county don't have children enrolled in the school system. Poll numbers have indicated reluctance to raise taxes for the additional school buildings that county leaders have said are needed to handle the additional 15,000 students per year entering the system.

The cost of school construction changes depending on what kind of school is being built. An 800-student elementary school currently under construction would cost nearly $21,500 per pupil. A 1,300-student middle school would break down to $24,500 per student, while a 2,200-seat high school would cost $24,800 a student. Those numbers change with every school because of the site costs and construction materials.

It's those steep prices that lead Gurley to create a private panel of citizens -- including contractors, lawyers, real estate agents, architects, and a banker -- to keep tabs on Wake County's money.

"This is the first time that the school system has opened its procedures and the county has opened it policies to allow an independent review," said Gurley.

The private panel's primary focus will be to justify the spending of the Wake County School System, where the district has listed four reasons why new school construction costs have gone up in the last three years: lack of available property, municipal requirements, environmental requirements, and increasing supply prices.

"First off, I want to look at what we've got and say, 'OK, if we did it the exact same way, can we do it cheaper?'" said committee co-chair John Mabe. "That's a way to look at it and learn what we're paying for."

The board is going to be looking at the budget with a critical eye, coming up with some creative alternatives that could change the future.


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