Put Valley School Board Hears Update on Capital Project Costs

We are part of The Trust Project

Anticipating higher-than-expected construction costs related to the $14.8 million capital project that was approved by Putnam Valley Central School District voters last year, architects presented the school board with some alternative plans during its Dec. 12 meeting.

As part of the project, upgrades are planned at the middle school cafeteria/auditorium, including an expanded kitchen and additional multipurpose space to host larger functions and meetings. In addition, a modern learning commons is planned at the school, as well as a modernized entrance, more flexible classroom space, and upgrades to bathrooms.

At the elementary school, HVAC and seating upgrades are planned in the auditorium, and two active learning spaces will be created.

In addition, a new health and wellness center at the high school/middle school campus to accommodate physical education and health classes, sports teams, and outside groups is being designed.

Walter Houser of KG+D Architects in Mount Kisco notified the board that, based on nearby school district projects, when the Putnam Valley project goes out to bid in January, the response may come in higher than anticipated.

“We’ve seen some recent cost escalation,” said Houser.

He explained that KG+D uses historical information and a cost escalation index to come up with estimates, and at each stage of the design, they compare the actual costs to the cost projections and see where changes are needed to keep the project on track.

Estimates include “direct costs” such as equipment and materials, a contractor’s overhead and profit, and escalation.

While escalation has been calculated at about 4.5 percent, KG+D figured it at 6 percent when doing its projections, based on a number of factors. However, “very recently, we’ve seen on some of our projects, as well as antidotally on other projects, some recent spikes in bid results,” said Houser.

In the past six to eight weeks, Pelham received bids for a project that came in 15 to 18 percent higher than anticipated, with Rye Neck and Scarsdale having similar experiences, he said. However, Yorktown opened bids this month that were within the district’s project scope, as well as Brewster and Mount Pleasant.

“I want to stress it’s a small sample size, so it’s not statistically significant, but it’s anecdotally significant,” said Houser. “So it’s a little difficult to make heads or tails of this, but it’s important to be prepared… We’re seeing significant increases in steel, concrete, masonry and windows.”

He said this could be due to demand, an influx in available work, or even uncertainty regarding tariffs.

To get ahead of the curve, KG+D is digging deeper into parts of the project that could result in unexpected findings, such as asbestos testing, and looking at different strategies with regard to awarding contracts, such as combining work or separating work so some aspects could potentially be postponed, or eliminated, if need be.

Houser also said KG+D is looking at “value engineering,” which is not cutting the scope of the project, but “doing the same for less.” For example, he suggested swapping the felt that is planned for the cafeteria ceiling in the middle school for acoustic ceiling tiles, and reducing some wood paneling.

“So we still have a very handsome look to the space, a very exciting look, but it’s actually a very significant cost savings,” he said.

Architects are also taking “a hard look” at the wellness center. “This building is the piece of the project that is most subject to the dynamic market changes we’re talking about,” said Houser, because it has the most steel, concrete, wall construction and windows.

Specifically, Houser said KG+D is looking at options to reduce the square footage and configuration of polycarbonate windows that are planned for the building – “which are pretty expensive” – while keeping the same amount of natural light coming in.

In addition, he suggested changing the way the exterior wall is designed to reduce masonry costs and foundation wall thickness – while making sure it still blends in with the other buildings.

“We’ll still deliver a building that looks like it matches the rest of the facility and fits in with your campus,” said Houser. “It can’t look like a spaceship landed next to your high school.”

Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Luft said he understands that the district is vested the project and may be hesitant to changing certain aspects of the project, but noted it is important that the district react to the changing market.

“So were trying to be as reactive as we can without overreacting and decimating our project, and we’re going to have to go out and see what the market will bear,” he said. “If we end up falling in that first bucket of schools that came in at 30 percent overbudget, well, we’ve got some decisions to make and we’re going to have to go back to the drawing table.”

Board member Barbara Parmly reminded her colleagues, and board members, that the district can’t go over the amount of money the taxpayers allocated for the project.

“So the only thing we can do is try to use all of these options to try to minimize the costs,” she said.

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.