The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday morning to transfer $2.1 million in savings from past school capital projects to the Board of Education to use for other capital projects.
County Administrator Greg Murray said the school board can decide whether to use the $2.1 million for school construction or systemic projects, which are major maintenance projects such as replacing aging boilers and chillers that supply heat and air conditioning to schools.
Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael said school system staff need to talk to the superintendent, but based on the school system’s needs and priorities he anticipates staff will recommend the school board use the money toward building a new Bester Elementary School.
A large package of bids for construction of the elementary school has twice come in over budget. The school board is expected to consider approving bids for Bester’s construction at its Sept. 18 meeting.
“We had hoped that there was some extra money available. Were we sure? No. ... We’re thrilled,” School Board President Wayne Ridenour said after the commissioners’ vote during a joint meeting of the commissioners and school board at the school system’s Central Office off Commonwealth Avenue.
Murray said the commissioners last spring discussed, during final talks about the fiscal 2012-13 budget, the possibility of helping the school system fund capital projects. County officials were waiting to see whether there were savings from several earlier school capital projects, he said.
The county realized $2,191,910 in savings from several past school projects after those projects were closed out financially and audited, Murray said.
The motion to transfer funds to the school system was for $2.1 million.
While the county already had money budgeted for new school projects, it did not provide money for capital maintenance for the school system in the capital budget for fiscal 2012-13. The county’s overall capital improvement fund has diminished over the years due to the struggling economy.
“The county, in their capital budget, was not able in the past year and in the upcoming several years to project money to help support systemic projects and some of the capital needs that the school board had. Although, overall, we support the large capital projects to a high degree,” Murray said.
“So, in this case, we were able to take that money, help them with some of the systemic projects, provide a local match for state funds and maximize the potential for some of the projects such as chillers, boilers, etc., that are needed at some of the schools that are aging,” Murray said.
The state supplies $2 for every local dollar for major school maintenance projects and school construction projects that pay prevailing wages. The state does not contribute as high a percentage of funding for school construction projects that pay nonprevailing wages, which tend to be lower.
It will be up to the school board to decide whether the $2.1 million transfer will be used for major school maintenance projects or toward a new Bester Elementary.
Asked if the $2.1 million would be used for Bester, Ridenour said, “My guess would be yes. ... It’s going to go into our capital pot. So it either goes for systemics and maybe some money we save there we move over to Bester. ... For all intents and purposes, yeah, it’ll go there” if the board approves the Bester construction bids.
After the school board and commissioners discussed a few agenda items at the joint meeting, school board member Donna Brightman said she thought it would be a missed opportunity if the two groups didn’t discuss school capital projects, including how to maximize state funding, work together and how to “live within our budget.”
That’s when Murray mentioned savings the county had from previous school capital projects and the discussion the commissioners had last spring to try to identify money the school system could use for capital projects.
After some discussion of the capital savings, the Bester project and joint cooperation, Commissioner William McKinley, a former administrator with the school system, moved to transfer $2.1 million to the school system for capital projects.
The county had $968,910 from the new Antietam Academy, $758,000 from Rockland Woods Elementary, $405,000 from the new Maugansville Elementary, and $120,000 from a major maintenance project at Fountain Rock Elementary, Murray said. Deducted first from those savings was $60,000 in overages from the new Pangborn Elementary and a major maintenance project at Sharpsburg Elementary, he said.
Michael said the Fountain Rock project was an addition that houses a cafeteria/auditorium and handicap-accessible restrooms.
Having that type of savings available at once from major school projects is not typical, Murray said.
“But, fortunately, this year we did have that available and the commissioners wanted to work cooperatively with the school board because there has been a very high level of cooperation,” Murray said.
The $2.1 million transfer brings to $5,869,000 the amount the county is providing for school capital projects this fiscal year. The county already budgeted money for new school projects such as Bester.
The school board still needs to vote on bids for Bester’s construction. That vote will decide whether to go with contracts that pay prevailing wages, or the staff’s recommendation to go with contracts that include paying nonprevailing wages. Some contractors bid the same amount for the nonprevailing wage bid package as they did for the prevailing wage bid package, indicating that employee pay might be the same either way.
Going with nonprevailing wages, at a cost of $18,332,853, is approximately $2.4 million cheaper than going with prevailing wages, which came in at approximately $20.7 million during the latest bid for the new school project, according to school system documents. The estimated budget for this portion of the project was $17.2 million.
Going into Tuesday’s joint meeting, the school system needed $3,808,000 more in local funding if the Bester project uses prevailing wage bids or $3,025,000 more if the project uses nonprevailing wage bids, Michael said. That’s a $783,000 difference.
Brightman said she’d like to see the school system live within its budget on Bester, as much as possible, even if that means changing some of the specifications for the school. She said she’d like to see some of the additional funding used to maximize state funding the school system could receive for major maintenance projects.