Education

Price for new Bluffton school could rise by $4 million

A rendering of the River Ridge Academy that will be built along Davis Road in greater Bluffton.
A rendering of the River Ridge Academy that will be built along Davis Road in greater Bluffton. Submitted

A new Bluffton elementary school could cost $4 million more than originally budgeted, school board members learned Tuesday.

Construction of the River Ridge Academy, already underway at the intersection of S.C. 170 and Bluffton Parkway, was funded at a price tag of $25 million by a 2008 referendum. But inflation and expansion of the project could put the price closer to $28.8 million.

The school board's Finance and Operations Committee unanimously approved the higher price Tuesday. To cover the difference, the committee also unanimously approved a motion to use funds left over from previous projects.

"If you think about how long ago the referendum occurred, and with the changes in costs and scope of the project, I think the ability to get the price that close is very good," said board vice chairwoman Mary Cordray, who also co-chairs the committee.

Both recommendations will go before the full board for approval at its next meeting.

COVERING THE DIFFERENCE

When the school district completes various capital and construction projects each year, it places any leftover money in a contingency fund, chief operational services officer Phyllis White said.

The district will use funds left over from fiscal years 2009, 2010 and 2012 to help pay for the new school, superintendent Jeff Moss said. He said there is at least $1 million left over from each of those years.

The district hopes construction costs come in below the maximum of $28.8 million.

Moss emphasized the district might not need to use the leftover money.

The maximum price is guaranteed by the contractor Thompson Turner Construction and includes all permitting fees, construction, furniture, technology and other costs.

That amount includes almost $800,000 in contingency funds and is based on maximum cost estimates. If expenses come in less and the contingency isn't used, Moss said the project could come in at close to the original $25 million figure.

"The cost per square foot for this project -- about $139 -- is still significantly less than the previous buildings we have constructed," he said. "So that looks very good for us."

THE WORK SO FAR

The district broke ground on the academy in June, and the contractor has already begun laying the foundation.

The school is scheduled to open in fall 2015.

The district also is making progress on a new high school set to open in the New Riverside area in fall 2016. The board voted in October to build both schools to accommodate overcrowding in Bluffton.

Moss said the district has submitted the high school building plans to the state for approval and hopes to hear back soon.

District officials should be able to present a maximum price for that project to the board in the fall. Moss said he expects the amount to be between $40 million and $50 million.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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