15 percent cost cut asked for West Salisbury School construction plan

Board of education officials will visit a school in Laurel, Md., crafted of steel where concrete is traditionally used, to determine if a similar building could make a new West Salisbury Elementary obtainable.

They are trying to cut costs by 15 percent, at the direction of the Wicomico County Council. At a recent meeting, council members agreed the long-debated school can be built  if costs are lowered.

Another point of contention is the size. School board officials want a larger school than the present building, which has capacity of just more than 300. They’d like to add a pre-school program and provide space for 650 students.

A larger facility would cost $41 million, compared to $24 million.

“I would rather have a 350-student capacity building than no building,” a hopeful Dr. John Fredericksen, superintendent of schools, said this week.

“Right now those kids at West Salisbury don’t have proper technology and they don’t have air conditioning.”

It’s too early to determine size, and how much can be saved by cutting costs, he said, but he’s pleased to have the opportunity to try for a new school.

Council Executive Bob Culver said students would have to be bused in to fill a bigger  West Salisbury Elementary, if the capacity is increased. That idea hasn’t been “vetted among county residents,” he said.

“By signing on to that, we would be agreeing to take kids from Delmar. The board of education would have to do redistricting, then get everybody to approve it. I don’t want to be the one to take kids from Delmar and bus them here,” Culver said.

School board officials decided to visit the Monarch Global Academy  public charter school, built from metal where concrete is usually placed, after reading an article in the Salisbury Independent about Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.

He praised Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who likes the idea of  spending half as much  for schools by substituting materials, building to commercial standards and designing them to last 50 years instead of 100. Franchot suggested it could be a viable alternative for West Salisbury Elementary.

It’s an idea that intrigues Fredericksen.

“We’re looking to see if we can meet state standards and meet energy efficiency and other requirements if we build a school like the Monarch school. State funding pays 97 percent of bricks, roofing, etc., but not permitting, land, architectural fees, that kind of thing. About half the cost goes into bricks and mortar,” Fredericksen explained.

He said engineering experts will work on reducing costs. “They are pretty aggressive when it comes to that, so they’ll try to drive all the costs down that they possibly can,” the superintendent said.

“Usually the engineering group will save from 1 to 5 percent, but we’re anxious to see if the team can squeeze 15 percent out of it,” he said.

John Cannon, president of the Wicomico County Council, called asking for the reduction “a good compromise between the council and board of education.”

“I’m anxious to see what they have when they come back to our table. We’re hoping it’s achievable,” he said.

Brian Foret, director of facility services for the board of education, said school board officials are “beginning solicitations right now to get AE’s (architectural engineers) on board now that we have parameters.”

“We didn’t know if a new West Salisbury school would be approved at all. They cut the funding in December and everything went into a tailspin. Now we can go ahead and get everybody back on board and start the project, but it might be a month, two months, before we know anything,” he said.

He’s concerned about the limited longevity of a school built like Monarch, but pleased there’s a preliminary plan.

“I’m always happy when I have a clear, direct mission. I’m not sure yet if cutting 15 percent is achievable but at least we can start lining up everything and start going again. The worst thing for us is the lack of clarity and decisiveness of where we’re going,” Foret said.

Fredericksen said studies and analyses have determined it’s best to rebuild rather than renovate the school, but added, “The question is, how big? We have to look at all the variables.”

He said he doesn’t know when the school could open, but isn’t worried there will be a significant delay.

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