Funding Approved to Construct Two Middle Schools, One Elementary School

Washoe County School District trustees on Tuesday gave final approval of a $200 million budget to construct three new schools scheduled to open in fall 2019.

Trustees reaffirmed the Capital Funding Protection Committee’s Sept. 28 recommendation to go forward with building middle schools in Spanish Springs and in Sun Valley and an elementary school in south Reno. Groundbreaking is expected in December on the middle schools and in the spring for the elementary school.

The Spanish Springs middle school will be on a 32-acre parcel between David Allen and Kiley parkways in the Kiley Ranch North development. About 10 adjacent acres will be used for an elementary school in the future.

Pete Etchart, WCSD chief operations officer
Pete Etchart, WCSD Chief Operations Officer. Image: Carla O’Day

The middle school in northern Sun Valley will be built on 80 acres of Bureau of Land Management property.

The 1,400-student capacity middle schools will be modeled after Depoali Middle School in South Reno with some adjustments.

The elementary school will be on eight acres in the South Meadows area near the Corona Cyan neighborhood on land donated by the subdivision’s developer.

Funds for school construction are coming from ballot question WC-1, November 2016’s 0.54 percent voter-approved sales tax increase. Such dollars can go only toward construction of and refurbishing of facilities. This money cannot be used for teacher or administrator salaries or other school operations.

Initial estimates showed the district getting $781 million through 2025, although it now anticipates receiving an additional $100 million to $175 million in bonding capacity between now and then depending on sales tax and property tax revenue, according to its financial advisors.

This is notable because labor and material costs are increasing. For example, the estimate for building a middle school two years ago was $55 million and it’s now $80 million.

District chief operations officer Pete Etchart said other up-front costs can add up but save money in the future. For example, building energy-efficient schools costs more but pays for itself in decreased utility bills.

“With less quality it won’t last as long and will cost more in the long run,” Etchart said.

Trustee Veronica Frenkel asked how increasing construction costs fit in when it comes to the 12 other schools expected to be built in the next eight years.

“We never know what’s going to be in store for us,” Etchart said. “I’m confident we’ll be able to build these schools when needed.”

Representatives from Cumming Corporation, a management consultant company, gave a presentation to trustees that addressed rising construction costs, the labor market and area growth. Among points:

  • The U.S. dollar is trending worse for imports, which equates to higher costs for imported goods and raw materials. The Dollar Index Spot in September listed the USD at 92.1 cents relative to the currencies of America’s trade partners.
  • Domestic material prices are more volatile, and several recent major hurricanes are partially to blame. Prices are driven by volume and builders should expect to see increased cost in dimensional lumber, sheathing, PVC products, and roofing materials, among others. Curtainwall and elevator orders are currently backed up 12 to 18 months.
  • Construction labor remains 36 percent below peak employment in 2006 and has been unable to keep up with growth as contractors struggle to find skilled laborers and have to compete for workers with other metropolitan areas in the West.
  • In the last 2 1/2 years, 22,800 new residents and 9,000 new homes have been added. An additional 30,700 residents are forecasted through 2019, along with 12,200 new households.

Etchart said school enrollment isn’t growing as fast as the local population and that the district is careful when evaluating needs for new schools.

“Jobs seem to be coming but we’re not seeing enrollment growth here, partially because of housing costs and rental housing cost,” Etchart said. “We aren’t going to build a school for the sake of building a school.”

Dr. Angie Taylor
Dr. Angela Taylor

Board president Angela Taylor said Tuesday’s decision was an exciting day for the district.

“While construction costs are rising, we are glad that funding from WC-1 is keeping pace, and will allow us to complete our building plan without needing additional funding,” Taylor said. “We will continue to monitor and weigh costs and revenues going forward to ensure we are able to fulfill our commitment to voters and the community.”

Contractors can now move forward in the bidding process and work to create a Guaranteed Maximum Price for the projects. Once a price is established, it must be approved by the board.

Washoe County School District Infrastructure Plan: http://www.wcsdbuilding.com

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Carla O'Day
About Carla O'Day 253 Articles
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.

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