The best-performing elementary schools in Massachusetts were built between 1955 and 1959 and are small. Our town runs what is ranked as a second-tier K-8 school and it happens to be fairly large on a space/student basis. The current school has some portions dating to 1948, but mostly it was built and/or extensively renovated in 1994. Based on these data of top performance in 60-year-old buildings the most politically involved folks in our town have decided to bulldoze the current school and rebuild a same-size school in the same place (they couldn’t find anywhere else on the 71-acre campus to create a school for 660 kids so students will be in trailers for three years).
[Data source: niche.com. The #1 school is Maria Hastings Elementary School in Lexington, built in 1955. It is only 59,853 square feet for 423 students so it seems unlikely to contain the “hub spaces” that our proposed 150,000+ square foot school will have. #2 on the list is a school in Wellesley… built in 1957. #3 is a school in Newton, built in 1959 with 39,000 square feet for 428 students.]
The town still needs to vote to approve the $100 million in borrowing (will put us right up against the state’s statutory limit based on property value). Here’s a committee member’s attempt to sell town residents:
If you can build a new luxury home for around $300/sq ft., why
does it cost over $500/sq ft to build a school?
The main differences between our project and a single family residential project are as follows:
– Prevailing wage requirements — As a public construction project, no matter which option we select we will be subject to the Massachusetts Prevailing Wage Law which establishes minimum wage rates for works on public construction projects. In addition to the hourly wage, payments by employers to health and welfare plans, pension plans and supplemental unemployment benefit plans under collective bargaining agreements or understanding between organized labor and employers are also included in the established wage. This equates to labor costs that are likely 2 to 3 times that which you might see on a typical single-family residential project. For example, according to the Department of Labor Standards the prevailing wage for laborers working on a public project in [Happy Valley] in 2020 will be entitled to an hourly rate of approximately $77 whereas a laborer working on a single-family residence is likely earning somewhere in the $20 range. Prevailing wages for electricians, masons, and plumbers are projected to be in the $110+ per hour range come 2020 when we are anticipating construction of the school project will start.
– Filed sub trades — Massachusetts General Laws require what is known as the “filed sub-bid” system for selecting certain subcontractors on public building construction projects. There are 16 trades under the filed sub bid laws including masonry, certain types of flooring, fire protection, plumbing, mechanical and electrical. The Law requires that contractors submit construction bids in two phases. First, filed subcontractors must submit their bids to the Awarding Authority, which will compile a list of all sub-bids received. The Awarding Authority will send the list to all interested construction managers. Construction managers will then need to submit their bid including any filed sub-bidders that will be used on the work. This reduces the control the construction mangers have on who they can hire therefore requiring additional supervision and coordination.
– Finally, there is the differentiation of work. Work that a builder might self-perform on a home project is likely to be broken down between sometimes two or three separate trades on a public project where organized labor rules the day. The benefits of this approach include clean and safe work sites but at a cost.
Like day traders, these folks see a rising market as a reason to jump in and buy now…
construction costs and more recently material costs have been skyrocketing over the past six years and are anticipated to continue to rise in the foreseeable future, at least out until 2020. In terms of the prevailing wages that I mentioned above, based on a review of the wages carried in the 2012 report and a comparison with the DLS wages that have been set for the coming years, we are looking at an increase across the board of 36%, with some trades such as plumbers and electricians experiencing prevailing wage increases of 50% or greater over the eight-year period from 2012 to 2020.
Given these costs of building I would think that the U.S. would have to get poorer on a per-capita basis as the population grows.
Comparison: The Essex-class aircraft carriers of World War II were originally budgeted at $40 million, roughly $600 million in 2018 dollars if you start inflating from January 1943. That’s $174,014 for each of the 3,448 people on board, e.g., the Intrepid. If our town’s school comes in at its $100 million original budget and the 544 actual current students move in, it will be $183,823 per student. This is slightly rigged by the failure to include teachers and bureaucrats in the school building analysis, but certainly it seems as though inflation in government-built infrastructure has been so severe since World War II that what we used to pay for a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier is now a reasonable ballpark estimate for a school.