First of two parts on new education tax projects.
By Natalie Simms
Rome City Schools will break ground next month on an addition to Rome High School, that includes a new college and career academy, athletics and extracurricular space, with an anticipated project cost of $24 million, some $8 million to $10 million more than the original estimate of $14 million to $16 million approved in the 2017 Education Special Local Option Sales Tax package. That’s an estimated 60 percent increase, based on a $15 million midrange initial estimate.
Superintendent Louis Byars says the majority of the increase comes from increasing materials and construction costs.
“Right now, the overall project is estimated at $24 million based figures from our architects. We have not put the project out to bid yet, so that cost could be less or could be a little more, but we anticipate it costing around $24 million,” he says.
“The majority of the increase from the original projections in the E-SPLOST is due to the price of steel increasing, as well as increasing electrical costs. We’ve seen just in the construction of Main Elementary this year that electrical costs are up 25 percent over what we paid in building Anna K. Davie just a couple of years ago and those two schools (Main and AKD) are very similar in design.”
Byars says most of the project will be funded through the E-SPLOST V package approved by voters in November 2017 as a 1-cent sales tax that will begin collections on April 1 after the current education tax ends on March 31. Of the new $80 million total package, city schools will receive an estimated $31.2 million and other $48.8 million going to Floyd County Schools.
“We will be taking out more from the SPLOST funds for the (college and career academy) but we are also applying for a number of grants and state funds to help with the increased costs. We have already been approved for $2.7 million in capital funds from the state for the project but we will be applying for others to help with capital outlay and equipment costs,” he says.
“I’ve talked to a number of other school systems in the state and everybody is experiencing the same thing in terms of increased construction costs. Even though the economy is better, Hurricane Michael has really impacted construction costs everywhere.”
Byars says the increase in the CCA costs will not impact the other Tier I E-SPLOST projects including the current construction of the new Main Elementary and the future construction of the Sixth Grade STEAM Academy at North Heights Elementary.
“We are finishing Main Elementary now and will build the CCA. Once complete, we will start the Sixth Grade STEAM Academy,” he says. “Right now, we don’t see construction costs going down at all; if anything, they may go up, so we are trying to expedite the (CCA) project to minimize any increases.”
RCS plans to break ground in April for the 16-month construction of the CCA, which is slated to be complete by August 2020. While the 162,070-square-foot facility is under construction, limited impact is expected to the RHS campus, one of the biggest will be student parking.
“We anticipate losing some spaces during construction but we are looking at areas where we can add spaces to offset this loss to some if not all of the parking lost during construction. However, we do not have finalized plans at this point,” says Tashia Twyman, Director of Communications and Public Engagement for RCS.
Byars says they do not have an exact count of how many spaces could be lost; it depends on how much space the construction company will need for equipment and materials. But those impacted will be spaces on the end of the school next to the practice fields.
An additional 50 new parking spaces will be added once the CCA is completed says Twyman.
As for the Main Elementary project, Twyman says construction is progressing on schedule despite a rainy winter. The school is planned to open in August for the start of the new school year. Byars says the cost of the new school is around $13 million, just up slightly from the $10 million-$11 million proposed in original package.
“I am glad we got Main started and under way before the steel prices went up but we have seen electrical costs increase,” he says.
Once the CCA is complete, school officials will focus their efforts on the Sixth Grade STEAM Academy. The plan is to convert North Heights Elementary School at 26 Atteiram Drive. The new academy would be a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) focused facility that offers children a curriculum focused on career exploration. It would create additional space at every elementary school in the Rome system with all sixth graders now going to different facility, giving the students a transitional year before entering Rome Middle School.
Twyman says they are in the beginning phases of planning for this facility, so no additional information is available at this time. The estimated cost of this project is between $7 million to 9 million, according to October 2017 figures. Background