Go, School Board, Go. Hold Their Feet to the Fire!

Wow, the Richmond School Board is asking some very pointed questions about the unexplained ballooning of costs to build three new schools for the Richmond Public School system. I’m impressed.

In a letter sent to the city’s procurement director and city engineer in charge of the construction projects, four school board members asked why the estimated $110 million construction cost leaped to $140 million in just five months. The spunky Richmond Free Press obtained a copy of the letter. City officials blew off the Free Press when its reporter inquired into the cost escalation, but it may be more difficult to ignore the school board members.

In the letter, the four School Board members note that the design firm, RRMM Architects of Norfolk, informed the School Board on Sept. 4 that the cost of the new middle school was projected at $182.48 a square foot. However, a new city report projects a $90 increase in the per square foot cost.

“When this design was built in Suffolk, it was the least expensive middle school project built (in Virginia) that year,” the letter states. “Please clarify why actual construction costs are $272.44 (a square foot), substantially higher than the state average.” …

The current $272.44 figure comes from information city officials provided to City Council last week.

While the letter does not say so, the $90 increase means the city would spend $16.8 million more than Suffolk did to construct the same school.

Kudos to school board members Jonathan Young, Kenya Gibson, Patrick Sapini, and Felicia Cosby — and to the Free Press — for demanding answers.

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8 responses to “Go, School Board, Go. Hold Their Feet to the Fire!”

  1. CrazyJD Avatar

    Now we get to hear from those financial geniuses in the city government. Wow!

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Crazy – you’re setting some kind of record for comments – for you! Not complaining just noticing!

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Happens down our way also, more often than not. What happens is that the “need” for a new school is identified and a low ball estimate is provided so that massive opposition is quelled.

    Then, just like the guys in the GA will use a new bill to “insert” other language – locals will start adding stuff to the original configuration.

    So a cynic would say this – They start with a low ball number.. then they start adding to it until there is outcry – then they “cut” and present a “cut” version to convince folks that they now have a “bare-bones” proposal.

    Hey… it “works”… !!! the folks that do this are rightly cynical of the public… they know how to do this!

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      This time is different. A building has been built on these plans for the only legitimate cost. Why? This 2nd building was approved on that earlier cost basis. So fraud or theft or gross negligence, or combination thereof, is apparent unless it’s proven otherwise.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” This 2nd building was approved on that earlier cost basis. ”

    big mistake!

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      That was assumption behind original article. Was assumption is wrong? Are they five months into construction? Or still revising plans? Can’t be sure from post’s summary. In any case, there was massive communications failure, to the board.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    which in my experience is pretty much par for the course in Virginia where the School Board is elected but cannot levy taxes – have to get
    the money from the BOS/City Council and the financial specifics of both operating and capital are literally devils in the details.

    In Richmond’s case, neither board is a good example of fiscal competence.

    Having said this – they are elected…. and they do represent what the voters chose – fiscal warts and all.

    “The government closest to the people serves the people best.”

    If I had a dime for every time a local school board in Virginia misrepresented a financial issue to the BOS…. I’d have a few however, I’m not sure it’s “illegal”. 😉

  5. NorrhsideDude Avatar

    Sometimes costs overruns show up due to a weak RFP. If unscrupulous contractors see an apparent oversight they will under bid knowing they can get change orders to make up for it.

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