School re­pair project $436M over bud­get

Broward School Board wants a plan for how work will get done

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Scott Travis

A long-de­layed Broward school ren­o­va­tion pro­gram is now ex­pected to cost an ex­tra $436 mil­lion, lead­ing School Board mem­bers to de­mand a plan for how the work will get done.

Five years af­ter vot­ers ap­proved an $800 mil­lion bond ref­er­en­dum to re­pair di­lap­i­dated schools, only seven of the 234 schools are com­plete, with 55 un­der con­struc­tion. Many projects have been stuck with ar­chi­tects for two or three years and have had to be re­designed be­cause of flaws that led to failed in­spec­tions.

Many projects un­der con­struc­tion are com­ing in at 50 per­cent or more over bud­get. The cost to re­pair the 68-year-old Strana­han High in Fort Laud­erdale climbed from $11 mil­lion to $28 mil­lion, while re­pairs and ad­di­tions at Cy­press Bay HIgh in We­ston sky­rock­eted from $9 mil­lion to $33 mil­lion.

“We need a mit­i­ga­tion plan that ad­dresses these spi­ral­ing costs, and the pub­lic needs to know we have this plan and they need to have ac­cess to this plan,” Board mem­ber Nora Ru­pert said at a Tues­day work­shop. “Peo­ple need to un­der­stand we’re aware of what’s go­ing on and we’re do­ing the best for the tax­payer dol­lars we pos­si­ble can do.”

Sev­eral other School Board mem­bers agreed and dis­trict of­fi­cials promised to bring a plan to the School Board soon.

The de­lays and ris­ing costs have alarmed Bruce Bernard, a mem­ber of the dis­trict’s Bond Over­sight Com­mit­tee who dis­cussed

the dis­trict’s progress with School Board mem­bers Tues­day.

“The costs are go­ing, go­ing, go­ing. How far is it go­ing to go?” Bernard asked. “Where is it go­ing to end? Where does some­one say this is the top buck we have?”

The $436 mil­lion in­crease is up from a $245 mil­lion pro­jected in Jan­uary 2017. Both es­ti­mates came from Atkins In­ter­na­tional, a con­sult­ing firm the dis­trict hired to ad­vise the dis­trict on costs of the bond pro­gram.

School Board mem­ber Lori Al­had­eff pro­posed hold­ing a coun­ty­wide town hall to al­low the pub­lic to ask ques­tions and voice con­cerns about the bond. Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Run­cie said he’d look into it but made no prom­ises to do that. He said he may hold smaller meet­ings within School Board mem­ber dis­tricts.

Dis­trict of­fi­cials say roofs, which are 30 per­cent of the con­struc­tion bud­get, have been the big­gest drain

In De­cem­ber, dis­trict of­fi­cials said for­mer dis­trict em­ploy­ees and a for­mer con­sul­tant es­ti­mated roof costs in 2014 as $6.80 per square foot. But that was well be­low the av­er­age cost of $12.98 for roofs that had ac­tu­ally been built in the dis­trict dur­ing the 2007-08 school year, the height of the re­ces­sion. To­day, the av­er­age cost is $19 per square foot, of­fi­cials said.

How­ever, School Board mem­ber Robin Bartle­man said she con­tacted Mi­ami-Dade schools and their roof­ing costs are com­ing in at $11 to $15 per square foot, sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper than Broward.

“We’ve been told our in­spec­tion pro­ce­dures are dif­fer­ent,” re­sponded Frank Gi­rardi, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of capital projects. “We hold ven­dors to the high­est re­spon­si­bil­ity of get­ting plans and [spec­i­fi­ca­tions] done. Other coun­ties may not be as strict.”

Bartle­man ques­tioned Gi­rardi’s logic say­ing ev­ery­one has to build the same code the state sets for schools.

“You’re bid­ding on cost per square foot, not on in­spec­tions. The in­spec­tions are done af­ter they get the job,” Bartle­man said.

Gi­rardi said con­trac­tors will in­crease their bids if they know in­spec­tors are strict.

Dis­trict of­fi­cials said they would con­duct com­par­isons of roof costs in more dis­tricts. School Board mem­bers have also asked dis­trict build­ing in­spec­tors to meet with them soon.

The bond pro­gram was sup­posed to be com­plete by 2021, but dis­trict of­fi­cials have moved that back to at least 2023.

Work has been com­pleted at seven schools so far, Gi­rardi said. Only two are among the dis­trict’s old­est schools: Co­conut Creek El­e­men­tary and Cy­press El­e­men­tary in Pom­pano Beach.

The other five were built in the 1990s or 2000s: Mana­tee Bay El­e­men­tary in We­ston, In­dian Ridge Mid­dle in Davie, Ea­gle Ridge El­e­men­tary in Coral Springs (1994), McNi­chol Mid­dle in Hol­ly­wood and Sil­ver Shores El­e­men­tary in Mi­ra­mar.

“The costs are go­ing, go­ing, go­ing. How far is it go­ing to go? Where is it go­ing to end? Where does some­one say this is the top buck we have?”

Bruce Bernard, a mem­ber of the dis­trict’s Bond Over­sight Com­mit­tee

LIND­SAY BROWN/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SEN­TINEL

Strana­han High is a Broward school fac­ing long de­lays and sky­rock­et­ing costs for re­pairs.

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