By ALICIA LEONARD
The Walton County School Board (WCSB) met in a workshop session on Feb. 18 at 3 p.m. to discuss costs associated with the Walton Middle School (WMS) rebuild. Architects with Elliott, Marshall, and Innes, P. A., presented a power point presentation to the board explaining costs associated with the master plan for the school.
The master plan for the school was supplied by the firm on May 7, 2012.
In January, a tentative budget of around $30 million was approved by the board. The original cost estimate for just the rebuild itself was estimated around $24 million, not including the removal of old building, permits, soil testing, asbestos removal, and other expenses associated with such a project.
Construction cost for Emerald Coast Middle School (ECMS) ran the district around $24 million, not including land and design costs. With the original plan calling for WMS to have 1,150 student stations – almost half the number of students currently enrolled – estimated costs for the rebuild was escalating to close to $34 million and prompted Walton County School Superintendent Carlene Anderson to ask for the workshop to allow board members to be apprised of the cost, and to see if there were any corners they might be able to cut to bring the cost back in line.
The ECMS plans were sent out for bids in 2009. Engineers told the board just the mechanical costs alone had risen around a million since then due to more stringent codes.
“I’m not seeing that growth here,” Anderson said of student populations at WMS, “actually, I’m seeing a decline from previous years.” Cutting the number of student stations was one way
Anderson said they could contain costs on the project. The design would be flexible, and allow for the stations and extra rooms to be added back without disturbing the rest of the construction.
Board member Mark Davis asked for a more concise breakdown of where the extra $10 million in cost was coming from. Engineers responded that renovations on two buildings that are to remain ran around $1.7 million. Reducing student stations and extra classrooms would bring it down another $2 million. Exterior basket ball courts, bus canopies for 11 buses to load simultaneously and an interior court yard were other items that were discussed as possibilities. Increased security planned for WMS has also increased costs slightly.
Board member Sharon Roberts asked if the school’s wireless capabilities would be sufficient for possible computer based testing for all students. Anderson responded that many details on testing were still up in the air at the state levels. Wireless infrastructure and “bring your own device” ideas are helping keep the cost for Internet access down for many districts.
“So what’s the bottom line? If we take out those classrooms and don’t remodel these other two rooms, what’s the bottom line?” Davis asked. Engineers responded that with inflation, the actual overage was around $7 million. With reducing the already mentioned student stations and no remodels on the older two building they estimated close to a $4 million reduction.
Board member Dennis Wallace agreed with Davis. “I still need to get this clear in my mind and be able to justify a 30-percent increase in cost from $24 to $27 million.”
Davis asked if they would not be better to find another site, but engineers responded the site itself and cost associated was less than a million and the site already had infrastructure, which could increase costs if another site was chosen.
Portable classrooms and improvements to the Wise Center for students to be housed in during the rebuild would run around $400,000 for the estimated two years for construction to be completed, and an additional $60,000 for labor and technology installs.
Discussion ensued about possibly relocating the building plan to where the Wise Center is located, and relocating the Wise Center to the WMS site, but ended without any conclusions.
Architects and engineers told the board that they would have a better estimate of costs by next month.
By ALICIA LEONARD