Moore County Schools is working toward awarding a construction contract for the last school that will be built with general obligation bonds voters approved last year.
But the school board learned on Monday that all four of the bids that the schools received last week from contractors interested in building a new elementary school in Pinehurst are well over the district’s construction budget.
In May 2018, Moore County voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum on allowing the county to borrow $103 million to build three new 800-student elementary schools in Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Pinehurst. All three schools will replace old campuses dating from the 1940s and 1950s — and in Pinehurst’s case, the new school will be nearly twice as large as the current one.
Construction on the Aberdeen and Southern Pines schools is already underway. The Aberdeen school off of N.C. 5 is more than halfway finished. At $27.1 million to build — not including the costs to buy the land and outfit the school — it has been the only one of the three to come in within the district’s budget.
In March, the school board awarded a $30.3 million construction contract for the Southern Pines school off of Morganton Road. That contract was nearly $2.7 million more than was budgeted. The county commissioners approved the overrun, but within a week reiterated the $103 million total spending limit on the three-school package.
On Thursday, the lowest of the four bids to build the Pinehurst school was $31.7 million. The bid, from the Wilmington-based Thomas Construction Group, is nearly $2.9 million over the project budget.
Aside from the budget to build the new school, the Pinehurst project has the highest ancillary costs. Unlike the Southern Pines and Aberdeen schools, which are going up on vacant land, the Pinehurst school will be at the same Dundee Road location that has served students since 1940.
So Moore County Schools has spent $3 million to erect a temporary campus of modular buildings in Rassie Wicker Park, which will serve Pinehurst Elementary students beginning later this month and into 2021.
That campus is now almost fully installed, and the schools are outfitting it with furniture and classroom technology this week. The school’s office will reopen at the temporary school on Aug. 14.
The new school is expected to be in service for the 2021-2022 school year.
At this point, Moore County Schools Director for Operations John Birath estimates that the district has a $4.4 million deficit between the total costs of the three schools and the $103 million the county has authorized.
The schools are expected to consider a construction contract next month. With a contract approved, the county can sell the bonds for the project. In the meantime, Birath said, the schools are reexamining the budget for the Pinehurst school in an attempt to whittle down the overall cost.
“We went through this process on the previous projects. Everything that came out of the process on those projects for opportunities to save without sacrificing operation or sustainability of the school has been incorporated into this project,” he said.
“However, this is a different design team, this is a different contractor with different subs. So we’re hoping that with another whole set of eyes there might be some items that we can identify that would bring potential savings to the project.”
A $945,000 “contingency” line item has been worked into the budget to deal with unanticipated costs that arise during the construction process. Similar provision was made for the Southern Pines and Aberdeen schools, but in both cases the schools ended up slashing that fund considerably in their attempt to bring the overall budget down.
Birath said that more of that contingency is likely to be necessary in building the Pinehurst school though, thanks to the decades of use the site has already seen.
“This site had previous structures on it and we do not know what might be encountered as we begin putting in the utilities and foundations for the new building as well as the demolition of existing structures,” he said. “So the design team is going to evaluate the potential risk.”
On top of building costs, each school’s total budget includes $2.3 million for outfitting. That includes tables and desks, kitchen wares and custodial supplies and web servers and routers that aid connection to the rest of the district.
While Moore County Schools isn’t yet to the point of procuring those supplies for any of the three schools now under construction, the district is nearing the finish line at McDeeds Creek Elementary, another 800-student school opening later this month. Based on the final cost to outfit McDeeds Creek, the district will have a better idea of how much of the budget for furnishings and technology will actually be needed for each school.
“Any surplus with McDeeds Creek is not available for transfer to the bond-funded projects, but it does inform what we might expect as we move into the bond-funded projects,” Superintendent Bob Grimesey said.