Your Views: Construction oversight needed

Your Views: Construction oversight needed
A rendering of the new Douglas MacArthur school as seen from the athletic fields. (Rendering/ACPS)

To the editor:

I hope Alexandrians and our City Council will work together to reduce the total cost of the Douglas MacArthur School rebuild project.

Should taxpayers be prepared for a total cost of $99,590,000 with zero land acquisition costs?

Recently, the Alexandria School Board requested and received approval from City Council a 10% pre-construction increase in the budget. Alexandria City Public Schools’ press release states that the 10% did not include photovoltaic panels required by code. These panels are estimated at an additional $1 million to $2 million, which brings the budget to $86.6M. With these levels of pre-construction overages is an additional 15% increase in costs during a multi-year building phase possible?

Even with no additional overages, which is unlikely, MacArthur’s cost at $86.6 million is $23.8 million more than the Patrick Henry School, including their new rec center, that was completed in 2019. Douglas MacArthur’s per student seat cost would be $104,970. Patrick Henry, the most recent school rebuild, was the previous highest per student seat cost to date at $69,780. Why is ACPS requiring an almost 50% increase to $104,970 per seat cost for Douglas MacArthur?

For further perspective, the costs on the most recent school rebuilds have been $44.7 million to $38.2 million to $62.8 million now to $86.6. In 2014, Jefferson Houston with 850 students was built for $44.7 million and a $55,000 per student seat cost. In 2018, Ferdinand T. Day was built with 650 students, but was a retrofit versus a rebuild, for $38.2 million. It had a $58,700 per student seat cost.

ACPS is writing checks that Alexandria’s taxpayers will have to cover. What oversight can City Council, city staff and residents exercise to reduce and limit school construction costs? I also wonder whether the lack of school building and development experience on our current ACPS Board is a contributing factor in these escalating costs? Is this a skill set Alexandria should pursue and incorporate to some level into the next ACPS Board?

The numbers provided are an approximate basis of comparison. They are drawn from various sources and may have to be revised.

-Deborah Conlan, Alexandria