School construction costs increasing; SBA makes corresponding move

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Proposed school construction projects that members of the state School Building Authority will hear about next month will include a recently approved provision that raises the square foot construction cost.

Ben Ashley

Members of the SBA approved the increase in September. SBA Director of Architectural Services Ben Ashley said the move follows a pattern of higher school construction costs.

“We’ve had projects bid over the last year or so that have been over our dollars-per-square foot funding allowance,” Ashley said. “With that in mind and looking at the construction cost indexes in both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, we are finding an upward trend.”

So as architects hired by county school boards prepare projects for their Nov. 18-19 presentations before the SBA they are working in the higher allowed costs, Ashley said.

“We don’t necessarily use this standard as setting the budget but we ask counties to set the budgets and then make sure it doesn’t exceed this fair cost that we’re establishing around the state,” Ashley said.

The new school construction square footage costs are now $307 for elementary schools, $302 for middle schools and $300 for high schools. The square footage costs were increased by 20 percent, Ashley said.

“It’s significantly less than building a hospital but significantly more than building a house,” he said. “The wall construction thickness is much greater in a school than it is a home. The roofing installation requirements and the HVAC requirements and all the technology in schools, the safety requirements, it’s all in there (in determining the cost of construction).”

It’s been six years, 2013, since the square footage cost was increased by the SBA. Ashley said the authority has now decided to meet annually with architects, engineers and cost estimators to keep closely tied to the trends in construction costs.

The SBA will hear the funding requests from counties next month and then decide in December which projects to fund. The authority is expected to have approximately $50 million for allocation. Ashley said it’s possible the new increase could reduce the number of projects approved.

“That’s always difficult but you have minimum standards you have to meet. We work to try and stretch our dollars as far as we can on every project and every decision. It’s a unique situation but the bottom line is we want high-quality schools around the state,” he said. “We want a school building to last 50 years and build it as such.”





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