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ROGERS -- The projected cost of the School District's next elementary school is now $23.1 million, about $3 million more than what officials originally had estimated.

Voters approved a 3.5-mill tax increase in May to help pay for two elementary schools and various improvements at existing buildings. The district had planned all along to put $2.5 million from its building fund toward the cost of the first new school, scheduled to open in August 2019.

The 2017-18 budget

The Rogers School District’s proposed budget for the 2017-18 school year lists $137 million in operating expenditures, about $60,000 less than what’s anticipated in revenue. The School Board is expected to vote on the budget at its meeting today.

Source: Staff report

The district now plans to take $5.5 million from its building fund to cover the increased cost, said Jake Haak, the district's chief financial officer, during his presentation of the 2017-18 budget at the School Board's study session last week. The board will vote on that budget today.

Conservative budgeting and careful spending practices have allowed the district to absorb the extra cost, Haak said.

"It's not many districts that can get a $3 million surprise and say, 'We can handle it,'" Haak said. "But we are in a position to do that."

The $5.5 million the district proposes to put into its 16th elementary school is on top of nearly $18 million in bonds the district sold last month to finance construction.

Darr Elementary School, which opened in 2013, is the last elementary school the district built. It cost about $13.8 million.

Elementary No. 16 will be about the same size and capacity as Darr Elementary. Haak attributed the price increase not only to a rise in building costs, but several things elementary No. 16 will require that Darr Elementary didn't, including road improvements, a detention pond and a gymnasium that qualifies as a safe room in the event of extreme weather.

When the district built Darr Elementary, "There were a lot of hungry contractors and a lot of hungry [subcontractors] that were out there looking for work," Haak said. "If you drive around currently, there are construction sites going up everywhere."

Charles Lee, assistant superintendent for general administration, said the price of aluminum is 30 percent higher, and the cost of electrical, mechanical and plumbing work is three times higher than it was for Darr Elementary.

Flintco, the construction management firm on elementary No. 16, is doing its best to keep costs down, Haak and Lee told the board.

"They're going to hit the pavement to find the best subcontractors out there to submit low bids to help us get this price down," Haak said.

Kristen Cobbs, board president, said the cost is "a little perplexing," considering the district is saving money on architectural fees by using the same design that was used for Darr Elementary.

The district is saving money on design, but actually building the school costs much more, and that's where the extra costs are coming, said Superintendent Marlin Berry.

The yet-to-be-named 16th elementary school will be built on the southern portion of 80 acres the district owns at West Garrett and South Bellview roads in the fast-growing southwest part of the district. A timeline for construction of the 17th elementary school hasn't been determined.

The district had $24.4 million available in its building fund as of July 1. This year's budget allocates $12.1 million of that to various needs across the district, including the $5.5 million for elementary No. 16 and $3 million for land acquisition.

Also included is money for roof and parking lot repair, painting, fencing, floors, doors and windows. Nearly $400,000 is set aside for renovation of a building at 2100 W. Perry Road the district bought this year to be used for professional development and office space.

The district proposes to transfer $7 million in operating money to the building fund, leaving it with $18.7 million by the end of this school year.

Mitch Lockhart, board member, asked whether the increased cost of the elementary school will derail projects the district had been considering. Haak said it would not.

Still, board member Paige Sultemeier pointed to the $600,000 set aside for floors, doors and windows at seven elementary schools.

"That's not much per school," Sultemeier said. "That was kind of one of the things we said, we're going to really work on some schools that need some help."

NW News on 09/19/2017

Print Headline: Rise in building cost surprises Rogers school officials

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