Slight Increase to School Construction Costs and New School Size Allowances for FY 2021

At the recent meeting of the Interagency Commission on School Construction, the Commission adopted a 3.4% increase to the statewide per-square-foot school building costs to $329 per square foot and changed their square footage allowances.

The dollars per-square-foot figure annually adopted by the State’s School Construction Commission represents to amount of funding that the State will contribute to school construction projects in the coming year. The State will still only contribute to a percentage of a project’s costs.

The Commission also altered the gross square footage allowances for elementary, middle, and high schools. The allowances differ based on population within schools at each level, too. Generally speaking, the State is raising its allowable school sizes for elementary and middle schools, and lowering them for the high schools with the lowest enrollment, and middle schools with the highest enrollment.

When determining State funding, the State:

  • Considers the total square feet that a school should be according to its guidelines;
  • Multiplies that square footage by its construction cost figure; and
  • Subtracts the required county government’s percentage portion of funding.

If a project is actually more expensive to build than the State’s figure, or if a project needs to be larger than the State’s square footage requirements, any additional costs fall to county governments, unless the local school board can demonstrate there should be an exception.

The fiscal year 2021 figure is a 3.4% increase over the FY 2020 cost per square foot figures for building-only of $318. Additional dollars per-square foot are applicable for site development costs.


  • State Superintendent Karen Salmon noted the importance of the cost per square foot figure increase and the space allocation increases as related to other school construction policy decisions.
  • Public School Construction Director Bob Gorrell noted that the figure is usually about 1.5% above the CPI and clarified that this amount doesn’t include furniture fixtures and equipment, and design fees. But this is what we would expect the contract to bid for the cost of construction.
  • Secretary McCord clarified that the $329 figure is for building-only expenses and clarified the variables in the gross area square footage charts.

Background Information from the Agenda:

COMAR F requires the Interagency Commission on School Construction (IAC) to establish the average Statewide per-square-foot school building cost that will apply to the capital improvement program by July of the calendar year in which applications are submitted. The calculation should be based on bids received for new school construction in the prior year and cost information derived from industry sources. The adopted figure may be adjusted by the IAC to reflect market conditions before approval of the final State CIP. Based upon recent school construction bids and a review of the national building cost index, IAC staff recommends that the IAC increase the cost per square foot figure to be used for the FY 2021 CIP to $329 per square foot for building only.

Both motions passed unanimously. The discussion of gross area baselines and statewide per-square-foot begins at 30 minutes. Link to video of meeting. Link to the full agenda.

MACo and county representatives to statewide school construction groups advocated for reconsideration of state allowable square footage during the 21st Century School Facilities Commission. These new numbers are the result of an analysis sparked by that input and help to ensure that all elements required by the State to be in a school fit inside its square foot allocations.

The new square footage figures are baselines for State funding participation, not hard caps as they were previously. Going forward, for any new, replacement or renovation project, a local school system may request additional state funding participation through a variance process.