New Castle County Vocational Technical School District is facing an $80 million deficit for its new Hodgson Vo-Tech High School that is supposed to start being built this summer and open in three years.
The culprit: Soaring building costs and scarce supplies, continuing a trend that started during the pandemic as governments everywhere used federal COVID money to tackle infrastructure and other construction jobs, but was made worse with inflation.
“The cost of products we see in our everyday lives, and eggs are probably the biggest example we saw,” said Joe Jones, superintendent of New Castle County Vo-Tech. “But when it comes to construction of this magnitude, prices have just skyrocketed.”
Hodgson isn’t the only education project that needs help.
The state has a “market pressure” review process that decides if and how much construction projects need to deal with inflation and other issues. Gov. John Carney’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2024, which starts July 1, includes $107.5 million for cost overruns.
The market pressure money is included in the Fiscal Year 2024 Capital Budget Bill, which must be passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor before it can be allocated to the district.
Already this year:
- Appoquinimink School District has been reviewed by the DOE and approved for an estimated $24.9 million for its Louis Redding Middle School reno, which would bring the total to $81.9 million.
- Appo also was approved for $2.9 million for its Summit Elementary School project, bringing that total to $53 million.
- Cape Henlopen has been approved for $6 million for work on a middle school, bringing that project to $63 million.
- Christina School District has been approved for $9.66 million for its Bancroft School project.
- Indian River School District has been approved for $30 million for its new Sussex Central High School, bringing the total to $189.6 million.
The new Hodgson will replace the current school and will be built next to the existing building on Glasgow Avenue in Newark.
The final price tag for the new building is just short $134,335,700 , with the state funding 62% ($83,172,900) of the cost, and the remaining 38% ($51,162,800) being locally sourced.
“This is all related to just different market pressures that we’ve identified, based really on different projects that have gone on in the state and in other school districts,” Jone said, “so we try to get as close to an amount as possible.”
HVAC a Hodgson headache
The new 287,000 square foot building – 10,000 square feet larger than the existing one, built in 1974 – will likely cost between $204 million and $214 million with the rising costs related to inflation.
Jones said there’s hidden costs that most people wouldn’t anticipate.
“When we think of costs, sometimes we tend to think just in terms of lumber and block,” he said, “but when you start thinking of the systems that it takes to run, that increases costs quite a bit.”
There’s long delays for things like heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, Jones said.
“So a lot of this additional expense comes in with that and just with available resources to give us products we need, but it’s a lot once you get into the really minute stuff of the project,” he said.
Jones said the district will not be holding a referendum to obtain extra revenue to combat the accrued debt.
Instead, Jones said the district will submit a request to the state to obtain the $80 million.
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“We’ve done our best to communicate all our needs to the Office of Management and Budget,” he said. “The Department of Education and OMB have been very receptive. There’s obviously no guarantees with anything but they’re very familiar with what all of these projects in the state, certainly not just us, are facing.”
The state doesn’t have to pony up the $80 million in one shot.
“We’re going to be under construction for a few years,” Jones said, “so we don’t have to have it all at once, so I think it would kind of go forward in increments.”
To date, the district has submitted Hodgson documents to the Department of Education on its estimated costs.
The district has not officially submitted a request for additional funding to the Office of Management and Budget and doesn’t have a timeline for when it will.
According to data from the budget office, the project is estimated to have $53.6 million of market pressure costs in fiscal year 2024.
“The department is working closely with a contracted vendor, the Office of Management and Budget and all districts that have approved projects to fully understand all market pressure needs of projects previously approved by the state,” said Alison May, public information officer at the Department of Education.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz
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