Schools Can Trim Building Costs 10%, Study Finds

Educational Programs Would Not Be Hurt, Architects Say

November 27, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

Howard County could save 10 percent on school construction without hurting educational programs, two local architects say.

Architects James Schulte, vice president of Security Development Corp. in Ellicott City, and Stephen W. McLaughlin, of ARIUM Inc. in Columbia, reported results of their school construction cost study Monday to school officials, PTA leaders, local business representatives and parents whohave served on school planning committees.

"Schools can be built less expensively without sacrificing any educational quality," said Schulte, who said he builds shopping centersfor $50 a square foot, about half the cost of school construction inHoward and neighboring counties.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker's proposal to reduce costs by 10 percent on future school construction projects can be accomplished without shrinking building sizes, McLaughlin said. "It's nothing to be feared."

Schulte found that recent elementary school projects in Howard County have cost an average $13,000 per student, lower than costs on two elementary schools in Baltimore and Prince George's counties, but higher than recent elementary school projects in Carroll, Frederick, Harford and Montgomery counties.

"There doesn't seem to be any correlation between the amounts spent on buildings and the achievement levels of students," Schultesaid.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey agreed with the architects' conclusions, but added a caveat.

"Certainly it is possible to build cheaper schools, and I use the word cheaper advisedly, and not necessarily impact educational quality," he said, adding that cheaper can cost more in the long run. He cited Columbia schools, built in the1970s with less-expensive heating, ventilating and air-conditioning units and now plagued with heating and cooling problems, as an example.

Councilwoman Shane E. R. Pendergrass, D-1st, asked Schulte and McLaughlin to study school building costs after Ecker cut 10 percent from planning money in the school board's 1991-1992 capital budget request and proposed lower-cost construction for future schools.

Pendergrass said when she was on the planning committee for Bollman Bridge Elementary School, her feeling was, "It's (for) my child, cost is no object," but she now sees a need for "outside people, someone who is like a devil's advocate," to challenge costs during the planning process.

School planning staff members already do that, replied Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations.

Connie Matheson, president of the Howard High School PTSA and a member of the western high school planning committee, said the committeehas shown "awareness that we do have to save some money."

"So you're asking questions and coming up with, 'We really need the demountable (walls) and we really need the jigs and jags?' " Pendergrass said.

The "jigs and jags" are indentations in exterior walls at Pointers Run Elementary School, which McLaughlin said were more expensive to build than straight walls.

The demountable interior walls, constructed for easy removal to expand rooms, were added to Pointers Run plans by the school board in June 1989. The idea was to put maximum flexibility into the building so that if enrollment climbs, project rooms could become classrooms, Cousin said.

McLaughlin concluded thatPointers Run, which opened in September, could have been built for $776,400 less than its actual construction cost of $6.6 million. The total cost of $7.6 million includes engineering, equipment and site development.

Part of the architect's cost saving was an estimated $18,600 difference between demountable walls and concrete block walls.

Bollman Bridge Elementary School principal Carey M. Wright pointedout the disadvantage of concrete walls. With enrollment growing, former project rooms that have become classrooms can accommodate only small groups of students, she said. "If I had a choice, instead of decreasing class size, I'd decrease the commons area size" by moving walls, she said.

McLaughlin found other cost savings from Pointers Runby eliminating the central courtyard, roof pyramids, skylights that let in natural light, movable partitions and the entrance canopy and by using carpet instead of wood on the gym floor.

Superintendent Hickey said a lot of what goes into a school building depends on what the community wants. On Pointers Run, for example, "We heard, 'We don't want it to look like an institution out there in the middle of farm fields.' "

The architect decorated the building with roof pyramids that McLaughlin estimated added $43,000 to the cost.

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