GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – A group called the Joint Capital/Facilities Committee for Guilford County – members of the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education – heard during an educational summit on Tuesday that cost overruns will require about $170 million more dollars in capital to complete eight rebuild/replace projects school officials have planned.
Voters in 2020 approved $300 million in bonds for the first phase of repairing, rebuilding and replacing every facility for Guilford County Schools, and in May they added the remaining $1.7 billion to complete the list.
For the projects scheduled to be completed in 2024, officials said they were not able to lock in prices and that they continue to rise. Steel prices, as an example, have increased by 128% since the bonds were passed.
Commissioners asked school officials to take a look at their design plans and find ways to save money.
“It’s more challenging to standardize everything, but we can standardize many things,” Jason Lembke of the design consultant DLR Group told county commissioners. “There has been an effort on the district’s part and the design teams to look for those common threads that type the projects together and addresses them. While also maintaining the important components of magnet programs and the neighbors in which they’re construction, and all of those things.”
But no matter what happens with those costs, Board of Commissioners Chair Skip Alston said in the meeting, there won’t be a pass-along cost to individuals, no raising of individual taxes. This is about how to structure debt.
“We have folks who are looking at those costs and those possibilities,” Alston said. “When inflation continues, when it’s going to level off, when it’s going to decrease. We have to work according to those projections. We have to move forward knowing that we have some hurdles to cross over, but we still have got to get the job done.”
Alston is cochair with GCS Board Chair Deena Hayes of this 10-person group that meets monthly. It includes three commissioners (Kay Cashion, Carly Cook and Carlvena Foster), three members of the Board of Education (Bettye T. Jenkins, Winston McGregor and Pat Tillman), Guilford County Manager Michael Halford and acting Superintendent Whitney Oakley.
During its meeting that group reviewed various proposals about debt structure for all those capital needs, and we won’t try to explain them to you. They call for the bonds to be issued in three “tranches,” in 2024, 2027 and 2029. That could change, and the full breadth of debt could be paid out through 2049 or beyond, the proposals suggest.
All of that will require several levels of public and board review and approval before anything can be firm, as will the additional cost issues for the $300 million bond projects that are underway. They comprise 11 new and rebuild projects that range from the design phase to planning.
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Officials saw presentations about new designs for facilities that are more student-and-technology-based than the current traditional teacher-based structure in many of the outdated facilities. These would include more flexible spaces than fixed-wall structures.
Plans also have evolved because of safety concerns and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic (such as the need for more open spaces and fresh air). Supply-chain delays on items such as chips for chip readers at entries are a factor, officials said.
But everything is being reviewed in an effort to control costs, which are affected by booming construction projects across the region and a gap in skilled craft workers who can fulfill all those needs.
About $120 million in bids have been issued from the $300 million approved in 2020 for those 11 projects. About $8.8 million has been spent, and county officials say site work on six of the projects is scheduled to begin later this year.
Plans call for the first project to be completed in 2024 will be the replacement of Brooks Global Studies on Josephine Boyd Street, which is scheduled for May 8, 2024. New Visual and Performing Arts (K-5), Peck Expeditionary Learning (K-8), Foust Gaming and Robotics (K-5), Clayton Elementary School and Kiser Middle School all are scheduled to be finished that year.
Two more projects – the new Katherine G. Johnson School for Science and Mathematics (K-8) and Montessori (K-5) at the former Archer Elementary School – are scheduled for 2025.
All those projects are in the design phase, and the rebuilds of Sternberger and Allen Jay elementary schools are in the planning phase. Land acquisition also is continuing for these projects.
The plan calls for maximum price guarantees for various elements to be in place for five of the projects by the end of this year, but officials said those dates likely would change.
Simultaneously planning for the roughly 125 projects listed under the master facilities plan continues with the allocation of the $1.7 billion bond.
Alston told the assembled officials on Tuesday that he would not allow the projects to be delayed and was looking at the necessary steps.