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Proposed cost of new Fredericksburg middle school increases to $77 million

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The revised cost to build a new middle school in Fredericksburg is now $20 million more than the city has budgeted for.

It’s now estimated to cost $77 million to construct the new school, according to a revised estimate city government received this month from the design-build firm First Choice, LLC.

The estimate is based on the completion of 35 percent of the design of the new school.

City Council in May approved budgeting $57 million for the school as part of the Capital Improvement plan for fiscal year 2023, which began July 1, but both council and the School Board have known since last fall that the cost would be higher.

In October 2021, assistant city manager Mark Whitley presented council with a $65 million price tag for the new school, and on July 12, he presented the new $77 million estimate to council during a work session.

City government plans to issue a bond to pay for the school. Whitley told council at the work session that the city has been advised to issue the bond as soon as possible, because of rising interest rates and construction inflation—but not before the cost estimate for the new school has come down.

“The plan is to push the bond issue in September and sell in October, assuming we can come to an agreement on an appropriate scope and get down closer to a more reasonable budget number,” Whitley said.

Council members said during the work session that $77 million is too much and that they have been worried about just this scenario ever since the school division’s enrollment, capacity and design task force recommended last summer that the new school be a middle school instead of an elementary school.

“We were reassured that going to a middle school wasn’t going to inflate the cost,” said Kerry Devine. “Twenty-something million [dollars] over our expectation is not doable in my opinion.”

Since both city elementary schools are over capacity and these large numbers of students will soon arrive at Fredericksburg’s one middle school, the task force determined that building a middle school would be a more proactive way to solve capacity problems.

“If we begin a new elementary, we would complete the new building and turn around and be in dire need of a new middle school,” School Board and task force member Jennifer Boyd said during a June 21, 2021, meeting announcing the middle school plan. “If we build a middle school ... we can look ahead and solve that [capacity] problem before it hits.”

City Council member Jason Graham was part of a joint city and School Board working group that looked into solutions for school capacity issues and has been a supporter of the new middle school, but he also agreed this month that a $77 million price tag is not acceptable.

“I’ve been pushing for this new school as long as anybody else here,” he said during the recent work session. “I want this to happen so badly, but there is a limit.”

Graham said he believes the School Board and the design firm will be able to “get creative” and find ways to bring the cost down.

“I believe we can get something done and I also believe time is of the essence,” he said.

The School Board has called a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss “new middle school construction,” according to the agenda.

Adele Uphaus–Conner:

540/735-1973

auphaus@freelancestar.com

@flsadele

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