Arlington School Board Capital Budget–Why is new school construction so expensive?

The Superintendent’s Recommended Capital Improvement Program (CIP) indicates that within the next five years Arlington schools will have a deficit of 1,000 elementary school seats, 1,000 middle school seats, and about 500 high school seats.

To meet the demand for more seats the CIP proposes to:

  • build a new 725 seat elementary school in South Arlington for $50 million;
  • expand Abingdon School for $29 million;
  • construct a new 1,300 seat middle school at the site of the current Wilson School for $117 million;
  • construct a 1,300 seat new high school at the site of the Arlington Career Center for $149 million;
  • expand Washington-Lee High school for $5 million;

for a total major construction cost of $350 million plus an additional minor construction cost of $70 million, or a grand total of $420 million. This equates to about $111,700 for each of the added 3,761 seats or at 21 students per class, about $2.3 million per classroom.

The CIP indicates that the choice of what and where to build was dictated by cost, i.e. in each construction category—elementary, middle and high school—the least expensive combination of added seats among the options presented was chosen.

How these costs were derived is unknown, but the basic assumption of the CIP is that it costs more to renovate or expand than to build new.

“Option sets including additions/renovations to existing elementary and middle schools cost approximately $19,000,000 more and deliver about 265 fewer seats.” (p. 39)

This assumption is counterintuitive. It’s like telling a homeowner that it’s cheaper to tear down his house and build a MacMansion than to add on to his home. For the sake of transparency APS should tell the taxpayers who developed these numbers and what interest he/she may have in the outcome.

I’m also concerned that APS has not explored modular design techniques that might reduce the cost of new school construction. Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) emphasizes modular design.

A presentation produced for an April 23 ACPS work session with Alexandria City Council indicates that ACPS plans to add 15 modular rooms to James Polk ES for a total of $8.5 million or approximately $567,000 per classroom. This is a fraction of the estimated $2.3 million cost to build a new APS classroom.

ACPS also plans to either tear down and rebuild or renovate a permanent 800+ seat K-8 school at the site of Alexandria’s Patrick Henry ES for $41 million, which compares favorably with the $50 million allocated in the CIP for a new elementary school in South Arlington.

Alexandria shares a geographic boundary with Arlington. It’s located in the same SMSA as Arlington. Arlington taxpayers need to know why school expansion costs so much less there than here.

8 thoughts on “Arlington School Board Capital Budget–Why is new school construction so expensive?

  1. Larry Petkov May 26, 2014 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    This is an excellent breakdown of the cost overruns proposed by the Arlington School Board for Capital Construction. Everybody wins except the taxpayers.

  2. Bill Kreml July 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Why is it that the two Big Box parties are so captured by the contractors that there is no way to save money when money is so easily saved by additions/renovations and modular?

    Nobody is fooled here.

    Listen to Audrey Clement.

  3. Ebon Talifarro September 24, 2014 at 6:13 am - Reply

    Ebon Talifarro

    Audrey Clement for a Greener Arlington » Arlington School Board Capital Budget-Why is new school construction so expensive?

  4. P September 29, 2014 at 11:50 am - Reply

    I hope ms. Clement plans on picking up all her signs she’s placed in Alex. On Quaker lane. I get tired of candidates leaving their campaign signs up for weeks after the election


    • admin September 29, 2014 at 12:23 pm - Reply

      I routinely pick up my signs the weekend after the election.

  5. Colleen October 9, 2014 at 8:49 am - Reply

    Where do we pick up signs to place in our Tara Leeway neighborhood?
    Colleen Kotb

  6. admin October 9, 2014 at 10:33 am - Reply

    To get signs to place in your neighborhood, please call 571-830-8889.

  7. Colleen October 9, 2014 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    Thank you! Will call tomorrow.

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