Tablet Opinion

Don’t push the panic button on Fort Worth school construction

Don’t blame parents of students at Fort Worth’s Washington Heights Elementary, on the city’s north side near Meacham Airport, for pushing for all they can get in a planned new school.

You might blame school district officials for leading them to believe they’d get more than the district can afford under the $490 million bond program approved by voters last year.

Better still, don’t blame anyone until consultants and architects can see how the new school might be redesigned — or “value engineered” — after construction bids came in 25 percent higher than the $10 million allocated in the bond program.

For one thing, as Star-Telegram writer Yamil Berard reported Sunday, plans released last year when the bond program was designed showed that the new school would be 50,000 square feet, about 10,000 square feet bigger than the current school.

But the district requested bids for a more expensive 60,000-square-foot school.

Washington Heights has about 347 students. A recent demographic report shows that it’s not expected to grow, but school board member Jacinto Ramos Jr., who represents Washington Heights, is skeptical about that.

“The community wants their new school at the size that was promised to them,” Ramos said, giving top priority to having plenty of room. He said “eco-friendly stuff” is less important.

That’s all understandable — although “eco-friendly” is good, too.

Nevertheless, the bids came in way over budget.

“We’re seeing construction [cost] escalation that’s ridiculous right now,” said Isaac Manning, chairman of a district committee of parent volunteers and community members appointed to oversee execution of the bond program.

What has to happen now is for architects and others to work with the plans to see what can be trimmed — called “value engineering” — and what can be built for the $10 million budgeted.

Nobody wants cutbacks to be the pattern. There are still a lot of projects to be done under the bond program, and it would be a shame to see them all trimmed.

But there’s no reason to get ahead of ourselves, either. Don’t push the panic button yet.