Limited Land Availability, Community Engagement and Amenities Drive Costs
APS Energy Usage and High-School Construction Project Costs Ranked among Region’s Lowest
ARLINGTON, Va. – Arlington Public Schools (APS) today released the results of a Construction Cost Study conducted by an independent third-party construction and cost consultancy firm, O’Connor Construction Management, Inc. (OCMI). The study provides a better understanding of the total school construction costs of Arlington’s schools in comparison to neighboring divisions. The report found that APS construction costs are, on average, comparable in price to projects in neighboring school divisions, including Fairfax, Loudoun, Alexandria City, Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, MD.
OCMI was selected to conduct the study, in part, because they have not provided construction or cost consultancy services on any current APS projects under construction or in the planning stages. As part of its analysis, OCMI compared the school construction project cost data of 30 schools, including line-by-line division cost data for 13 schools. OCMI’s scope included an analysis of both hard and soft costs* of new school construction and renovation projects completed within the past five years or still underway. Some key findings include:
- APS’ most recent school construction total project costs are, on average, comparable to those in neighboring divisions, despite land constraints and other factors that increase APS costs;
- APS’ high-school total school construction project costs are less than most (9 of 14) of the non-APS projects analyzed for this study. With few exceptions, the costs of APS’ high school projects are less than other equivalent projects in Northern Virginia, the District, and Montgomery County;
- The Energy Usage Intensity (EUI) of recently completed APS projects is lower than nearly all other regional schools, in addition to surpassing the national average for energy savings; and
- APS is saving money on energy costs in the long term through energy-saving design choices. In the instance of the recently completed Discovery Elementary School, APS is now generating excess power that may be used at other schools.
“In comparing cost data, we found that several unique factors, like site constraints arising from a dense urban setting and a longer-than-average community engagement process, tend to drive up costs for Arlington schools over the life of a project,” said Tom Strandberg, Vice President, OCMI. “Although other school divisions we analyzed don’t confront these challenges at all or to the same degree, we still found that APS’ most recent construction costs are relatively on par with any of those in the region.”
The report provides a total school construction cost breakdown for 30 schools, including both Arlington and surrounding communities, with costs ranging from $28,000 per seat on the low end to $248,000 per seat. Recent APS school project costs range from $60,000 per seat for Wakefield High School to $130,000 per seat for the secondary school being built on the Wilson site. This higher cost is due to the urban site constraints and other factors as outlined below.The report identified three primary challenges that affect the costs of APS’ construction projects, in comparison to other school divisions:
- Site constraints requiring APS to fund off-site structured parking accommodations for staff during construction;
- Limited land availability, amenities and design specifications that prevent APS from capitalizing on prototype designs that can reduce soft and hard costs; and
- Extended community engagement and permitting processes that correspond to greater staff and contractor fees for longer planning schedules.
In addition to APS’s current construction cost controls and measures, the report offers suggestions for APS to explore various ways of improving the management of its project costs, from budgeting and planning stages through design and construction.
“We commissioned this study to gain a better understanding of our school construction project costs compared to other school divisions, as we continue to expand to meet our growing student enrollment,” said Reid Goldstein, Chair, Arlington School Board. “The report offers a guide to help APS manage resources and maximize efficiencies in future projects, while continuing to meet the educational needs and expectations of our students and the community.”
During this analysis, OCMI also prepared a Market Study to help inform the analysis and recommendations in the Cost Study report. That was provided to the School Board in June 2018 in advance of the release of the Cost Study.
To view the full OCMI Cost Study Report and Market Study, or for additional information, please visit https://www.apsva.us/about-the-school-board/internal-audit/.
About the APS Internal Audit Function
The Arlington School Board created the APS Internal Audit function, consisting of an APS Audit Committee and Internal Audit Director, in 2014 to evaluate the integrity, accountability, and transparency of APS internal financial controls. The Internal Audit Director reports directly to the Audit Committee. This reporting structure ensures that the Internal Audit Director remains independent of District Management. Independence is essential to ensure that audit results are objective, and are communicated directly to the School Board. Internal Audit provides recommendations only, and does not have any authority to implement operational policies or procedures on behalf of APS.
*Hard costs examined by OCMI include construction labor and materials, specialized services and equipment, and general requirements and permitting. Soft costs include architecture and engineering, design, project management, and furniture, fixtures and equipment.