June 19, 2008

Sandusky Construction Costs Rising

By Annie McCallum, The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va.

Jun. 19--The rising cost of fuel and materials means some changes for the new Sandusky Middle School.

To stick to the project's $28 million budget, officials have eliminated some building features and reallocated funds.

Dominion Seven Architects representative Blair Smith said despite the changes, the new school won't look different than the previously released renderings.

"You will never notice a difference in how the building looks," Smith told school board members Tuesday.

Changes to the building's design to save costs: deleting the planned cupola, simplifying the masonry design, deleting some furniture additions, removing the school's second elevator, and switching from the planned plastic lockers to metal.

None of the changes will affect the project's LEED certification, Blair said, including the deletion of the cupola that would have supplied natural light and the switch to metal lockers. The certification is awarded to buildings that incorporate various energy-efficient components into their design.

Blair briefed education officials on the changes during Tuesday's school board meeting, in which board members also voted to shift funds to cover the rest of the project's deficit.

Making various changes saved $1.3 million. The school system will also take $69,713 from its paving fund and $656,817 from its "reserve for future expenditure needs" account to make up the rest of the difference.

"It has nothing to do with the building getting larger or more elaborate," Superintendent Paul McKendrick said at the meeting. "It has everything to do with materials getting more expensive."

Reached Wednesday, Smith said the project was originally about $2.5 million over budget.

"I think when we see material costs go up as much as they have it's very much a concern," he said. "The budget for this project was set about a year ago."

In the last six months alone costs have skyrocketed, he said. For example, since January the cost of steel rose 50 percent, creating an impact of between $800,000 and $900,000 on the project.

Aluminum has risen 36 percent, copper 83 percent.

Even the cost of diesel fuel, which has risen by 200 percent, is passed on in construction. A bulldozer working on the site, for example, is going to be powered by diesel fuel.

Several factors increase costs, Smith said.

"Part of it is demand; we are in a global economy now, so we are competing against needs in China and India," he said.

Smith also said he heard steel mills shutting down in China to curb smog before the Olympics could be contributing to high steel prices.

According to an April 2008 article by Reuters news service, some Chinese steel mills around Beijing may shut down or reduce operations during the Olympic Games.

Here at home, Smith said construction bids were good considering economic realities.

"We got very competitive pricing," he said. "We had a lot of interest in the job and I think that helped bring pricing down."

On June 3, the school board awarded the project's construction bid to J.E. Jamerson Construction. The contract amount for the construction is about $24.5 million.

"That price is a total lump sum amount to build this building and the related site work and that's good from now until they finish, unless the scope of work changes," Blair said.

The building, the first new school since the division built Heritage High School in the mid-1970s, is scheduled to be completed in 2010.


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