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Architects: Ideal consolidated school will take $135 million

SoVaNow.com / May 09, 2018
The Mecklenburg Count School Board got its first hint of what it will cost to build their ideal school for students in grades six-12 during a meeting Monday night with architects from Ballou Justice Upton, the firm that has been hired to design the new facility.

For $135 million, Mecklenburg County will get a 330,000 square foot facility with:

» 35,000 sq. ft. aquatic center at a cost of $10.5 million

» 4,000 seat football stadium surrounded by a running track

» 1,100 seat auditorium

» 2,000 seat gymnasium

» separate teacher lounge and teacher development center

» agriculture barn with classrooms and bathroom facilities at a cost of $900,000

» wrestling room at a cost of $1.35 million

» culinary arts center at a cost of $1.7 million

» two auxiliary gyms – one for the high school and one for the middle school – at a cost of $1.3 million each

» separate soccer, baseball, and softball fields and tennis courts for the high and middle schools

» on-site maintenance garage at a cost of $5.6 million

» on-site school board office at a cost of $5 million

Billy Upton, the lead architect for the project, said the estimated cost for the new school is between $270 and $280 per square foot. While some of the items he identified could be built at a later date, he said the budget was still about $5 to $10 million shy of what he needs to complete what he called “a basic school” — one that is safe and meets all of the buildings requirements suggested by the Virginia Department of Education.

Upton said the $100 million set aside by the Board of Supervisors for the project appears to be “a fortunate budget, but it is still a stretch” because of other costs associated with the new school complex.

Before construction begins, Upton said the land must be purchased. This will cost $1.8 million. Another $3.5 million to $4.5 million must be spent to install a pump station and extend a sanitary sewer line to the likely site on U.S. 58 near Baskerville.

He estimated it will take another million dollars to add deceleration lanes on U.S. 58 for buses traveling to and from the school. Plus, there will be additional expenses with moving a fiber optic cable bisecting the site and connecting to the waterline that runs on the opposite side of U.S. 58 from the school site.

Upton said $15 million more should be set aside for contingencies, and there could be additional costs if Mecklenburg County is forced to purchase more property across Wooden Bridge Road to accommodate bus and car traffic in and out of the school site.

Currently, the Virginia Department of Education is saying there can only be one access point into the school site from U.S. 58, according to reports from both the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.

There is also potential for hitting rock, said Upton, “so there needs to be some additional geotechnical consideration and thus more out of pockets before the school gets built.”

“You hope you never have to use the contingency,” said Upton.

All of these costs will come out of the $100 million approved by the supervisors. “How much will be left for the school?” asked school trustee Dora Garner. Upton replied that there would be $77 million left over for construction, at best.

It will take $10 million more to design what Upton called a “basic school,” one that will meet the requirements suggested by the state Department of Education.

However, the design could be scaled back for an 800-seat auditorium instead of an 1,100 seat hall, and plans to build auxiliary gyms, an aquatic center, wrestling room, agriculture teaching farm and culinary arts centers could be shelved. Another cost-saving measure would be to reduce the football stadium seating capacity to 2,000, and have it double as a soccer field.

Other constraints could mean the school would have to forego lockers and narrow the hallways to design a building that fits within the allotted budget, Upton explained.

Monday’s meeting was billed as an opportunity for the architectural firm to have a discussion with members of the School Board related to the work that has been done so far, and the probable costs. Trustees also received a schedule to “get a sense of when critical decisions have to be made,” in the words of Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols.

Upton told trustees that if they believe the Board of Supervisors is willing to allocate additional money for the construction project, he and his team will accompany school board members for a sit-down conversation with supervisors.

“I can tell you that we are willing to stand side-b-side with you. We are a team player,” said Upton.

Hearing this, several trustees encouraged Upton to appear with them at the next joint education committee meeting to share his reasons for seeking additional construction funds.

Upton repeatedly told trustees that his firm is looking for “some direction” from them. “We can get started down the road and go through schematic design. That could give you time to speak with local leaders to see if they will add something more to the budget,” Upton said.

Dale Sturdifen wondered how Upton made the decision about which items to cut from the school design to fit within the budget. He was told, it was a decision of the design team. Instead of cutting items, Sturdifen suggested Upton move forward with a design of the full facility and allow supervisors and school board members to decide which items stay and which can be eliminated.

Upton said this was not possible because his contract with the School Board requires him to design a school that fit within the set budget.

Glenn Edwards questioned Upton about his cost estimates since “both materials and labor costs” are on the rise. Upton said his estimate of $270 per square foot “adjusts for potential inflation, but that time is the [school division’s] worst enemy.”

Rob Campbell asked about the level of security incorporated into the design. He was told there were provisions made for cameras, a secure entry vestibule and appropriate curbs and berms that would prevent someone from driving up directly to the school. These items, said Upton, cost very little money.

After hearing from Upton, the trustees agreed to seek input from the Board of Supervisors about the design options and the associated costs.

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