Most of the commentary at recent School Board meetings has been about where to construct new schools. There has been virtually no discussion about the estimated $435 million cost, presumably because everyone agrees with the Superintendent that Arlington can raise the money by issuing more bonds.
Even though the cost of the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars has ballooned to $515 million, County Board has assured taxpayers that the project will be financed by leveraging the commercial real estate surcharge tax. So it says school construction will not compete with the trolley projects for bonds financed with residential real estate taxes.
Nevertheless ACB’s latest CIP indicates that $267 million for the trolleys will come from as yet unidentified federal and state grants. If those funds don’t materialize by the time construction is underway, the County will be forced to issue GO bonds or form a taxpayer subsidized Public Private partnership to finish the projects. That could place APS’ classroom capacity expansion project in jeopardy.
So there’s a real need to look hard at the cost of constructing new classrooms. At recent CIP meetings I’ve recommended two ways to cut costs: modular classrooms that can be built more quickly and cheaply than traditional schools, and historic tax credits that can be used to renovate the historic Wilson School and other county owned certified historic buildings at a fraction of the cost of new school construction.
A third cost cutting measure is to retrofit all buildings scheduled for build out or renovation with energy efficiency features. GreenPath, a DOT DBE and SDB, MBE certified Orlando based energy efficiency consulting firm, estimates that energy costs can be cut by as much as 50 percent by retrofitting older buildings to meet Energy Star and LEED certification standards.
Regarding the benefit of energy efficient retrofits the GreenPath brochure says:
“Schools and universities will continue to be major clients for green building retrofitting as literally hundreds of schools have adopted green-only development policies to help control mounting financial pressure to keep education affordable. Regardless of tightening budgets, improving energy efficiency in aging facilities are realistic goals that any school district or educational facility can achieve. GreenPath can help reduce energy costs by 30% to 40% and significantly contribute to controlling the bottom line and maintaining current programs.”
This information demonstrates that APS doesn’t have to break the budget to provide more seats for more students.