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INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County and its public school system are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to expectations for total cost of Phase I of the school system's long-range facilities update — but in the end, the bill will have to be paid.
On the heels of budget adjustments to all constitutional officers in Grayson, supervisors held a special called meeting last week to express total cost expectations for Phase I of the school system's long-range facilities improvement plan.
The first phase includes Grayson Highlands School, which is expected to open in January, and renovations and additions to Fries Middle School.
A resolution to "fiscally safeguard and protect" the county was the only item on the agenda Dec. 21 and supervisors spent little time discussing it.
Chairman Mike Maynard reminded the board that county staff continues to work hard to ensure Grayson can survive the current fiscal crisis.
The meeting, Maynard continued, was a way to be sure the school system was aware of the total project cost the county was willing to pay.
When the county first embarked on the project, the agreed amount to be financed was $16.3 million.
Throughout the last year and a half, the supervisors and school board have argued over the total approved cost of Phase I and whether it was over or under budget.
With the resolution passed last week, supervisors declared that grant money obtained to help fund the school's new water system from Troutdale should have actually reduced the total project cost by $600,000 — down to $15.7 million.
The resolution finished by stating that the county "shall not in any way contribute in excess of the restated Total Project Costs" of $15.7 million.
Supervisors gave no indication during the meeting that they expected the school system to be over the allocated amount for Phase I, but an e-mail to The Gazette from Schools Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas projected a much higher total cost.
"At this point, we expect the total costs of Phase I to be in the range of $17.9 million," Thomas stated.
Although the school system estimated in June 2007 that Phase I would cost $16.3 million, Thomas said that number was an estimate. The supervisors agreed at that time that, if the actual cost bids for the plan deviated by greater than 10 percent from the estimated amount, it would require reauthorization by the supervisors.
With the additional 10 percent, the school system had an amount of $17.9 million to complete Phase I of the improvement plan before requesting any further approval — the very same amount school officials estimate the facilities plan will cost.
Thomas added that the cost at Grayson Highlands was greater than expected for several reasons.
"At the time of the bid, steel and other construction materials were at all-time highs," Thomas told The Gazette.
The school system also incorporated requests to design the school to serve the entire community with a regulation size gym, a large cafeteria area, a wellness center and a large generator so the school could serve as an emergency shelter if needed.
"In addition, VDOT has required the school system to construct turn lanes and correct the crown of the existing road for a cost of approximately $614,000," Thomas continued. "Despite unexpected costs and upgrades to the school, we were able to produce an excellent facility at a relatively low cost."
In fact, Thomas said Grayson Highlands was "actually the lowest cost per square foot school in the state of Virginia for facilities in construction in 2007-08."
Although bids for FMS came in well under budget, Thomas added that several additional expenses to include upgrades to the cafeteria and roadway, as well as removal and replacement of water lines, sewer lines, an oil tank and unsuitable soil have added to total costs of the project.
With the expected costs in the range of $17.9 million, that puts the project $2.2 million above what the county has said it will pay.
When asked what that will mean when the county obtains permanent financing for the debt, Grayson County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said he was not certain and expected to meet with Thomas later this week to have that discussion.