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New Grayson school not overspent

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ALSO ONLINE: School Projects Progressing

By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Recent budget numbers appeared to show that more than $2 million had been overspent on a new school in the western end of Grayson County, but school officials are adamant that it's not so.

“We are actually $4 million under our facility studies projection,” Grayson Schools' Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas told the board of supervisors earlier this month. “And we are spending significantly less per square foot than any school in Virginia.”

When bids were awarded earlier this year for the new Grayson Highlands School in Volney, the $8.8 million contract sent up a red flag to supervisors, who worried the school system would surpass the $16.3 million approved for both the new school and renovations to Fries Middle School.

Thomas provided figures to the board that showed the original estimate for the new school was on the high end of $7.7 million — but that was if it had been built back in September 2006.

“That was just for the school building,” said Thomas. “That did not include land acquisition and such.”

That estimate also did not include the expected inflation — estimated at 1.5 percent per month — the costs would accrue as the project progressed.

According to those numbers, the new school should have cost the county $10.5 million when the bid was awarded in June of this year.

Adding in the expected architectural fees and inflation, Thomas said original estimates put the project at closer to $22 million for Phase I, which includes both the Grayson Highlands and Fries projects.

With the addition of road work, installation of water and septic service, purchasing land and furnishings, the total cost for the new school comes in at $10.8 million. Add in the $6.4 million estimated to remodel FMS, money for furnishings and architectural fees and the estimated total is $17.9 million.

Of course, the numbers for Fries are estimates as bids have not yet been received. Thomas hopes that construction, steel and fuel costs will continue the downward slope they have been on and bring the bid down even lower.

In the end, Thomas says the school system may be slightly over the $16.3 million total, but still within the 10 percent cushion the supervisors approved before being reviewed.

When supervisors originally approved borrowing the loan monies, they set a cap of 10 percent above the cost to allow room for inflation. Supervisors mandated that, if costs exceeded that 10 percent, they review the project.

Thomas added that the new school will cost roughly $132.70 per square foot, compared to a statewide average of $154.41 for similar elementary schools.

While Grayson Highlands is considered to be an elementary school, it will house kindergarten through seventh grade with core classes available for high school students.

Taking into consideration the full-size gymnasium and other features a middle school usually has, Thomas said the school system is getting even more bang for the county's buck. The average cost for a middle school in Virginia was $195.35 per square foot.

Thomas said having things not normally included in an elementary increased the cost by about $20 per square foot — still significantly below the state average.

Supervisors' Chairman Mike Maynard noted that the purpose of having Thomas attend the meeting was to not only get the school system and supervisors on the same page, but also to see if the board needs to take any action regarding the bids that will come in shortly on FMS.

Maynard wanted to make sure the school board didn't accept bids until the supervisors reviewed by them.

“Even if it falls within the $16.3 [million]?” Thomas questioned.

Maynard said that if the bids fall within 10 percent of the $16.3 million previously approved, there was no need for supervisors to look at them. He added that Grayson County Administrator Bill Ring and Assistant Administrator Mitch Smith needed to be notified immediately when the bids were received so they could review the total cost and make sure it falls within the 10 percent variance.

If the bids push the total project over that buffer zone, the school board will have to wait until supervisors meet and discuss what to do.

Phase I is part of the county's long-range facilities improvement plan, in which Mount Rogers Combined School and Bridle Creek and Providence elementaries will be closed.

Phase II is expected to start in 2010-2011 and will include additions and renovations to Independence Middle School and a new school in the Baywood community. Phase II will close Fairview Elementary.

Phase III — scheduled for 2020-2021 — will include renovations to the high school, estimated at nearly $18 million.