Local News

Under-Budget Construction Projects Help Wake County Schools

Posted December 1, 2003 5:54 a.m. EST

— An extra 3,000 students are moving into Wake County schools every year, so making room is an ongoing challenge. On top of school bonds, leaders are now turning to an unlikely, but very welcome source for money -- government building projects that come in under budget.

If Carpenter Elementary School in Morrisville is like most Wake County schools, it will be overflowing with students the moment workers lay the last brick. Despite the explosive growth, Wake County schools are getting good grades for containing construction costs.

"There have been more people competing to get contracts to build schools and the school system does a good job managing money and the result of that, we have a savings," Wake County Commissioner Herb Council said.

Thanks to the slow economy, the county has saved millions on construction-related expenses.

"When we actually went out to bid, we received bids that were below the estimated cost," said Don Haydon, associate superintendent of Wake County schools.

So far, school leaders say they have identified $25 million in savings. County commissioners funnel that money right back into building projects like Carpenter. The problem is those savings are not gravy. Although they celebrated voter approval of a $450 million school bond last October, Wake schools have planned for $550 million in construction. Even with savings and state money, they are still about $43 million short.

"I would say we're hopeful we can make up the rest," Haydon said.

"We're working on that everyday, trying to identify additional savings, closing out extra projects," Council said.

School leaders point out school building and renovation are continuing needs. If they cannot make up the $43 million shortfall, they plan to roll it into another school bond request in the coming years. Just to keep up, they are spending another $15 million on mobile classrooms.

Wake County schools plan to build 13 new schools by 2008. The $450 million bond referendum approved by voters in October will help pay for it. School officials expect 60,000 more students to move into Wake County by 2020.