Worcester Seeking School Construction Alternatives

At the heart of a long story is the difficulty of high-cost school construction projects.

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Worcester County seeks to replace Showell Elementary in Berlin, Maryland. A proposed budget for the project exceeded $50 million.

A recent article in OC Today shares an update on the construction of a replacement elementary school in Worcester County.

Through the story of one school’s project approval process, the OC Today article also gives insight into school construction cost drivers in Worcester County.

The story begins with a budget proposal delivered by the schools to Worcester County Commissioners for a school replacement project. The proposed project budget exceeded $50 million, according to the article.

As it describes the process of the project’s approval, the article explores the reasons behind school construction expenses in Worcester County, including increases in construction costs and a lack of competition between construction bidders,

“The primary factor associated with the increase is time. We built Ocean City Elementary School in 2005 at a cost of $141 per square foot. Three years later … the bids for the Pocomoke High School project came in at $238 per square foot,” Joe Price, facilities planner for the schools said, according to former schools spokeswoman Barb Witherow.

Securing contractors is also a concern for the schools.

“Worcester County does not have an abundance of potential bidders like the western shore. On our most recent project, Snow Hill High School, five of our contractors are from the eastern shore while 12 are from the western shore and two are from Pennsylvania. Travel and mobilizing personnel and equipment impact the costs associated with bids, and therefore, construction costs,” Price was reported to have said, according to Witherow.

The article also describes the lessons learned as Commissioners inquired into the costs of school construction in other counties. In Anne Arundel County, for example:

  • Schools are built on a prototype template, meaning almost all of the schools have somewhat similar design specifications
  • In a recent school construction project, the county already owned land to be used for a new school
  • With a larger overall number of schools, the county is about to move students into other facilities while new construction is taking place

Over the course of discussions about the new school, the project missed an a deadline with the State’s Interagency Committee on School Construction. At that point, Executive Director of the Committee, David Lever, is quoted in the article describing the State’s contribution to the project, which is $9 million.

For more information, see the full story from OC TodaySchools, county cannot agree on costs for Showell.