Do our state and county governments frugally manage the revenues from your income and real estate taxes that are spent on building new schools?
At the September 22, 2015 Frederick County Council workshop, the final agenda items included a discussion of issues to be brought before the January legislative session of the 2016 Maryland General Assembly.
Councilmen Delauter and Shreve raised a concern over the recent significant increases in construction costs for Frederick County Public School projects, to which County Executive Jan Gardner has attributed to new state regulations for stormwater management and the prevailing wage rate.
It was referenced in the Frederick News Post this past Wednesday that the councilmen would like to know the actual difference in costs by comparing the former costs to those now under the current state regulations, because at the end of the day these mandated increases become the sole burden of the county with no assistance from the state.
The article brings forth a paraphrased statement made by County Executive Gardner:
School construction costs have experienced a significant increase as a result of new state laws specifically prevailing wage and stormwater management regulations. The cost of Frederick High School increased by more than 25 percent and these cost increases are borne by local government. Thus, this legislative initiative would require a state cost share to cover school construction cost increases resulting from new state laws, mandated in regulations.
I found the conversation among the council members very interesting, but it still left me bewildered, knowing that the cost to build the new Frederick High School appears to be approaching and incredible figure of $115,000,000 for the construction of a 270,620 square foot facility … or more simply stated $425.00 per square foot.
But it is not just Frederick High School. When reviewing other school projects on the FCPS website, I came across the Butterfly Ridge Elementary School statistics: it will cost $37,000,000 to construct the 100,000 square foot facility or $370.00 per square foot (about $70 of which includes modern teaching equipment and furnishings).
It’s not the difference between the two costs per square foot figures that troubled me, but how astronomically higher these figures are compared to public schools built in other states, not to mention the low costs for facility construction that many public charter schools, parochial and private schools are able to accomplish.
Take for instance a study that was conducted by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts for its state school project in July of 2014.
Consider this excerpt from the report:
Over the six-year period, the Houston area’s 169 campuses were by far the least expensive in adjusted average cost per square foot at $135. The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area had the most campuses (200) averaging $161 per square foot, behind the San Antonio area’s $166 per square foot for 68 campuses. [I’m assuming here that these figures do not include modern teaching equipment and furnishings]
And look at the data posted on the website of the Virginia Department of Education, which shows that in the last three fiscal years ending June 30, 2015, a total of 1.18 million square feet of new elementary schools were built at an average costs of $219 per square foot … and these figure include about $34 per square foot for all the modern teaching equipment and furnishings.
It was back in 2011 that one of Frederick County’s public charter schools pursued the opportunity to build a 2 story 44,000 school complete with a full gymnasium and all the other basic bells and whistles that go along with such a structure. With a fully approved set of architectural drawings and a site plan, the result of competitively bidding the project yielded a price of $110.63 per square foot. Go figure?
Unfortunately for Frederick Classical Public Charter School, the 3rd party funding source for the developer fell through at the last minute; but even in today’s dollars, based upon my limited research, I am now more bewildered than before as to why our Frederick County Schools have to cost so much.
Could it really be that as a result of new state laws specifically prevailing wage and stormwater management regulations, the costs of our public schools running anywhere from 50% to well over 100% more those in other states?
Ms. Gardner stated that the increases attribute for 25% of the increased costs. If so, where does the rest of the money go?
There is clearly more to this story.
I welcome your thoughts and comments.
The author: Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He has been an active member of the Frederick, Maryland community for over four decades. He has served as chairman of the board of Frederick Memorial Hospital and as a member of the Frederick County Charter Board from 2010 to 2012, to name a few.