School builders to pay overrun South Shore project exceeds estimate, but manager will get tab

September 09, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

With all contracts awarded, South Shore Elementary School will cost nearly $6.2 million, some $465,000 over the estimate of $5.7 million.

However, the school system will have to pay only the $5.7 million it originally budgeted for the project, said Rodell E. Phaire Sr., director of facilities planning and construction.

The reason is a new system that used a construction management firm to develop the cost estimate. Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. guaranteed it would bring the project in on time and at the estimate it developed.

"It's still within our budget," said Ronald Beckett, the associate superintendent who oversees construction.

Whiting-Turner officials said they would not comment on the project.

While school officials were pleased, county officials remained critical.

"We have always questioned the estimates they are using for their projects. This one, it isn't right either," said Ray Elwell, a county budget official who often works on school funding.

Disparities between construction estimates and final cost of schools have bedeviled the administration. In two years, it had $7.2 million of construction overruns and errors, from design gaffes to neglecting to include money for such items as a ventilation system.

Under a threat from County Executive John G. Gary to improve the system in one year or face takeover of construction projects, school officials have been working with the county to improve their building process.

But as recently as last week, new school board member Paul Rudolph expressed concern that the bottom line on the South Shore estimate and the contracts were off.

"What can we do in the future to see that we are not over the estimate?" he asked.

School construction officials attribute the higher school price tag largely to market fluctuations and bidding requirements.

School officials decided to experiment with a construction management firm because a year ago the school already had been delayed a year, was in jeopardy of not being done on time and the bids were over budget. The project, which is budgeted for almost $8.7 million -- including furnishings, design work and tearing down the old building -- has been delayed twice.

It began as a renovation and addition to a 38-year-old school. Blueprint errors led officials to scrap the first proposal. When the low bid on the renovation and expansion was $4 million higher than the budgeted amount, school administrators re-examined their plans. The project was changed from a renovation to a new school, but it still was over budget. The new plans shrunk the project from a 412-student school to a building with classrooms for 300. That, officials say, should be large enough through 2004, when an addition can be built.

The building design has won praise. It will be featured in the November American School & University architectural portfolio as one of four outstanding buildings in the category of works in progress. Designed by Rubeling & Associates Inc. of Towson, South Shore was selected for its interior layout and its use of a restrictive site.

The site, 14.4 acres, has wetlands and ravines. The interior separates the kindergarten from other classrooms, and the gymnasium and cafeteria-auditorium are centrally located.

Getting the project done on time is a big concern to South Shore parents, whose children are starting their third year of elementary school held at Annapolis Middle School.

Pub Date: 9/09/96

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