Despite urging from a community member, the Longview School Board is waiting to make a plan for responding to a projected $4 million cost increase to build two new elementary schools as part of an upcoming bond measure.
Superintendent Dan Zorn briefed the board on the new, higher cost estimates at a Monday night meeting.
“We are trying to do our due diligence here to make sure the information we have is good and accounts for some of the things other organizations have been faced with after their bond passed,” Zorn told The Daily News on Monday before the meeting.
The board in April approved a $115 million bond measure to build two new schools, among various other projects, with the understanding that the price could change based on the results of the soil study. That study suggests that soil conditions at both build sites will require deeper building foundations to meet seismic building code, Zorn said.
About $2.4 million more will be needed to pay for the foundations at both schools, he said.
Based on an updated cost analysis of recent school construction bids in Southwest Washington, the district’s construction consultants predict another $1.6 million will be needed to cover higher-than-expected rises in construction costs, Zorn said.
In total, the district is expecting to pay about $4 million more than what consultants quoted to them in March, Zorn said.
To cover the difference, the board could choose to increase the total price tag of the bond to $119 million before the measure goes to a vote in November.
Adding money to the bond would not cost taxpayers any more than the district originally anticipated, due to a recent drop in interest rates, Zorn said.
The latest estimates show a $119 million bond measure will require a tax rate of 88 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, or about $176 annually on a $200,000 home and $264 annually on a $300,000 home.
That’s the same rate the district was forecasting for a $115 million measure before recalculating the repayment with new interest rates, Zorn said. (TDN reported in April that a $115 million bond measure would cost voters about 92 cents per $1,000 assessed value, or $186 annually on a $200,000 home. District officials updated the tax rate estimate to the 88 cents rate after that article was published).
“Because of those lowering interest rates, the cost to our taxpayers is relatively unchanged if the board were to decide to add $4 million in the bond request,” Zorn said.
Board members could also decide to cover the difference by reducing the price of other projects included in the bond or using state match money to finance the new schools. The district is projecting to get $2.2 million in state match, which is currently reserved for a “contingency or safety net” should other project costs increase, Zorn said.
“It’s not a fixed market, when you start looking at construction costs,” Zorn said. “You are certainly aware of the possibility (of unexpected cost increases), which would be a pretty good rationale for continuing to use that $2.2 million as a contingency. We are trying to avoid a situation where we are surprised by things on the back end of the passage of the bond.”
The board could also combine those three options to cover the cost increase, Zorn said. For example, the board could increase the bond price by $1 million, reduce other projects by $1 million and use the full state match money to cover the rest.
Gary Walker, a Longview resident who also serves on the district’s facilities improvement team, asked the board for a “direction” of what their plan to respond to the price hike might be.
“I’m not asking you to lock into anything (tonight). … I just want direction,” Walker said, noting that it would give the public something to consider and comment on before next meeting.
But Board President C.J. Nickerson said the group will not discuss the matter at length — or vote on a plan to cover the new costs — until its June 24 meeting.
Poor soil conditions and higher-than-anticipated construction cost escalations recently caused the price for other Cowlitz County construction projects to increase sharply, encouraging the Longview School District to “get out in front of” any potential price increases before voters passed the bond to “avoid surprises on the back end of it,” Zorn said.
Though the latest numbers are still only estimates, and “we cannot guarantee” tax rates or exact construction costs, Zorn said the district is “confident in the numbers.”
“I think we are feeling really good about that updated number,” Zorn said. “We want to make sure that whatever we put out in front of our community is the absolute best information available.”