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Culpeper school bids over budget
Culpeper must cut high school renovation costs after bids come in higher than expected

Date published: 9/20/2012

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON

Culpeper school officials are scrambling after the lowest bid for the renovation of Culpeper High School came in almost $3 million over budget.

According to construction projects manager Hunter Spencer, the five bids for the project ranged from a low of $19.9 million to a high of $20.9 million. Based on its architect's projections, the Culpeper County School Board had anticipated bids in the $17 million range.

"It concerns me," Spencer said Wednesday. "We sent out a very detailed budget based on what our cost estimator told us."

Last November, Culpeper County voters approved a $21 million bond referendum to fund renovations of Culpeper High, which has not been significantly upgraded since it was built in 1969.

Of that total, $1 million was needed to handle the bond transaction and other financial costs, $1 million has already been spent on architect fees and $2 million is needed for testing, furnishings and other soft costs.

Now, short almost $3 million, school officials must decide how to cut corners and make the project work. Spencer said the school system may try to shave costs on cosmetic issues, such as using paint instead of tile on some walls.

"We certainly won't do it on the efficiency items," he said.

"We may just be able to buy some, but not all furnishings," Spencer added. "We may also be limited in expanding network services."

Spencer said school officials are working with the Hord, Coplan and Macht architectural firm to determine how the company underestimated the cost of the project and to find ways to bring the costs down.

"We'll look at leaving things out, identifying less-expensive substitutes or postponing things," Spencer said.

The bid problem may also throw off the school system's construction schedule, which called for work to begin in October and be completed by the opening of school in 2014.

"Hopefully, we should know where we're heading by next week," Spencer said.

He said that the overbid problem is nothing unique.

"We've always had to scramble on bid day. Yowell [Elementary School] came in high and we were about $3 million short on the Eastern View project."

So the construction projects manager sees no reason to panic.

"We'll get through this, too," he said.

Donnie Johnston:
Email: djohnston@freelancestar.com