The latest bids for the new county high school/middle school projects are in–the low bid is $84 million. Last spring, the county supervisors approved the school project at only $64 million. That estimate came in at $7 million more than the previous estimate from 2021.
There were murmurs at the time that $64 million was a bit wishful for a project of this size and magnitude. $84k seems more accurate, yet still very hopeful. $90 to 100k may be more realistic, however, the county says it can afford no more than the $64 million.
The county has already borrowed a total of $67 million–$25 million in 2019 and $42 million in 2021.
None of this should come as too much of a surprise. Closely linked with the supply chain backlog is the rising cost of materials. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction material prices were up by 25% in 2021, and the cost of construction in 2022 remains high. It is not expected to stabilize until 2023. Even then, there are no guarantees that prices will come down.
Henry D’Esposito, JLL construction research lead, notes, “While everyone knows prices have been volatile over the past year, it was remarkable to visualize how severe the price swings have been this year compared to any point over the past 70 years. Not only has it been a record-breaking year for just one commodity, but commodity prices are increasing across the board.”
An example is OSB board, which 2 years ago was $8-9 a sheet. Over the last few months, it has gone as high as $50 to $55 a sheet. The same increases can be seen in lumber, metal, and stone. Design and labor costs have also accelerated.
As the project costs continue to spiral, county residents have to wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze–can a rural county of only 12,000 shoulder the burden of this debt, when a large swath is retired and on fixed incomes?
Some decisions need to be made. Should the county write off the new school project as a bad job and focus on fixing what they have? It’s a mixed bag–the 1950s portion of the school is considered in poor condition. The 1970s portion is considered in good condition. It should be noted that the elementary schools also need over $16 million in repairs.