(Above) The bus canopy shown in this rendering of the new Ranson Elementary School will be eliminated from the project to save costs.
Joyce White, Deputy Superintendent of Operations for Jefferson County Schools (JCS), spoke to the Board of Education at its regular meeting on April 24 to give a brief update on the new Ranson Elementary School project. “The contractor has trailers on site” was the report, pointing out the visible confirmation that the construction phase of the project is finally underway. The update on the school system’s request for additional state funding was equally to the point — “no additional funding.”
At an earlier Board of Education meeting on February 27, White had presented the low bid for the Ranson construction project — $31 million, which put the entire project roughly $11.5 million over budget. Following a discussion of several funding options, the Board accepted the construction bid and directed White to negotiate with the state’s School Building Authority (SBA) for a supplemental grant. After reducing the project costs by $2 million — a combination of exterior design changes and other minor changes suggested by the contractor — the hoped-for target was an additional $9.5 million from the SBA to cover the entire funding gap.
Seeing the escalating costs of school projects around the state, the SBA had deferred funding any new projects in 2023 to maintain a reserve to backfill funding for previously-approved projects. At its March meetings, the SBA approved supplemental grants to cover increased construction costs for school projects in Hampshire, Kanawha, McDowell, Mercer, and Wood counties. The SBA has very detailed guidelines for school construction projects, including standards for hundreds of specific features. Requests for additional funding need to meet the Authority’s temporary administrative guidelines for supplemental funding, which include a strict adherence to these standards, including a maximum square-foot per student calculation.
Sticking With The Approved Design
According to the SBA, Jefferson County Schools elected not to alter the project specifications that had been developed in consultation with the local community input, which includes two STEAM labs — one intended to serve the Ranson school population and the other to be available to students from other elementary schools around the county. While removing specific features might have resolved some of the differences from the SBA guidelines, the overall size of the building exceeds the SBA guideline requirements — and adjusting the design to meet that guideline would have necessitated a redesign (and rebid) of the project.
Shepherdstown Elementary School Project Up Next
The April 24 Board meeting discussion touched briefly on the construction project for the new Shepherdstown Elementary School. The change in design from public sewer & water to on-site septic & well system has delayed the submission of a final plan to the SBA for approval to solicit bids. The general consensus of everyone involved in the project is that it will see a similar cost escalation above the previously approved budget. The Shepherdstown project also has features requested by the local community that exceeds the SBA’s minimum standards, suggesting that any funding gap in that project will also require funding from JCS reserves.
According to the options presented by Ms. White at the February 27 Board meeting, the additional $9.5 million to fund the Ranson construction project will come from various JCS reserve funds as follows: $1.25 million from the bond interest reserve fund, $3 million from capital projects funds, $3 million from the FY22 operating budget carryover, and $2.2 million from the FY23 operating budget carryover.By Staff Contributor