Board discusses additional cost estimates for Middle School project

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Drawing of new entrance to Milford Middle School

At a recent meeting, the Milford School District Board of Education discussed schematic designs and drawings for the Milfrod Middle School project as well as a cost estimate that was $14,400,00 over funds approved by the state for the project. Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson explained that the cost overruns were due to building cost escalations as well as outdated formulas used over the past few years.

“The initial schematic design and drawings for the Milford Middle School Project which are within the educational specification document are being brought to you this evening for approval,” Dr. Dickerson said. “This approval is needed so we can move forward with state approvals and into the design development phase as well as for future construction documents. Any revisions of the educational specifications as we progress will be brought back to the board on the design was put together up in a programming exercise conducted by BSA+A architectural engineer.

Dr. Dickerson continued, explaining that the design prioritized efficient design and ensuring that spaces utilize the most classroom space as possible. The total square footage is within 1,500 feet of the approved 132,910 square feet approved by the sate and in alignment with the initial proposal.

“The cost estimate for the project based on the current educational specifications is presently $14.4 million over the funds approved for both the state project costs,” Dr. Dickerson said. “That’s common due to escalating costs and also outdated formulas during the past couple of years. We will keep refining the budget and square footage as we move into the design development phase and again, any changes that occur will be brought back to the board for approval.”

Board member Dr. Adam Brownstein reminded the board that he had some concerns right around the time the pandemic began about what could happen should costs for the project rise.

“Sure enough, the crystal ball was working as our costs have obviously gone up,” Dr. Brownstei said. “And I was, I believe, told at the time that we would go back and ask for some sort of exemption or something. My only concern is I want to reiterate whether that includes the complete delta between what we allocated and the money that this building will cost us. Because when we embarked on this project, there’s a state side but then there’s also a local side. So, if they only match the state delta and we have to come up with the local delta, we’re still going to have a problem given the magnitude of the delta. So can someone reiterate that for me, please?”

Dr. Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer, explained that there were market pressure contingency funds that are allocated statewide for this type of project. If the price remains firm, Dr. Croce stated that the district would request the full $14 million.

“There are certain funds we can use locally, including some of our minor cap money, so we could piece together our local share,” Dr. Croce said. “It’s our hope and goal that we will produce that delta as much as possible and that the 74 percent is funded by the state and we will be able to match that with no additional needs based on the funds we currently have available.”

Dr. Brownstein pointed out that if the cost of the project went up by 10 percent that would mean the district’s local share could increase by almost three percent. He stated that percentage of $14 million would be significant, asking where the funds would come from should the district have to cover that cost.

“Over the past nine years I’ve been here with Milford School District, we’ve been very, very cautious about putting funds away,” Dr. Croce said. “We do have a reserve that’s capable of absorbing that, but we would look to the board to be able to use and access those funds. I’m not saying it’s not a large amount, but we’ve committed to our community that this is the cost of the project that would be charged to them. As a district, we are looking to absorb any additional costs with the funds that we’ve put away.”

Dr. Brownstein thanked Dr. Croce for the explanation, stating that he did not feel that the community would be comfortable with the district having to go back out for another referendum to cover additional costs. Board member Matt Bucher pointed out that other districts had likely faced a similar issue and wondered if the state had ever denied an application for market funds requested by a school district.

“No, they have not denied the market pressure funds. I will tell you that there is significant conversation around the local match component and some of the abilities of Sussex County districts versus some of the resources that other counties have available like impact fees that we do not have here in Sussex,” Dr. Croce said. “So that creates a specific challenge for Sussex County districts trying to match and that is no fault of their own when there are additional costs that have come along with these projects. So, there is a lot of conversation and we’re not sure how in this session that market pressure conversation will continue. We’ve been very adamant that there should not be a requirement for local districts to match the market pressure funding but now the state has committed their funds to the projects, they need to have them finished.”

Board member Dave Vezmar asked if the vote could be tabled as he had just received the information on Friday and had not had time to read through the 51 pages. Dr. Croce explained that delaying a decision could result in delays at the state level that would move the project forward.

The board passed the measure with a vote of four to zero with Vezmar abstaining.

After the vote, Mike Sharp, Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds, explained that they were now moving into bidding for the environmental phase of the Middle School project.

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