Fort Worth

Fort Worth school officials agree to try to lower cost for new Washington Heights

Architects and school construction officials are going back to the drawing board to redesign a new Washington Heights Elementary School to try to bring the cost of the new North Fort Worth campus closer to its target budget of $10 million.

A new campus was promised to voters in the $490 million bond package passed last year. Its current design would cost $2 million to $3 million more than originally budgeted in the bond package, school officials said.

School administrators had said they planned to ask trustees to approve an increase in the budget for the Washington Heights project and said they would present the plan to the board for a vote at Tuesday’s meeting.

Instead, they proposed the redesign to try to lower the cost.

A new building would replace the underground campus at 3215 N. Houston St. It is expected to open in fall 2016.

School officials warned that rising construction costs would likely affect nearly every project under the bond program. In North Texas, the construction industry is experiencing a labor shortage, some construction officials have said.

Washington Heights “is not going to be an anomaly and not the only one,” said Vicki Burris, who is leading the district’s capital improvement program. “No one had a crystal ball at the time” to predict an increase in construction costs.

Interim Superintendent Pat Linares acknowledged, “We are having some tough times ahead of us. We are in a situation that nobody predicted.”

To stay within the bond budget, the scope of some projects will have to be cut, school officials said.

Some board members said they were concerned that cuts could jeopardize what was sold to the public before the bond package was approved.

“I want to publicly state in the spirit of equity, I’m really hopeful that we look at the entire bond and make sure that we don’t keep running into this,’’ said board member Jacinto Ramos, who represents the Washington Heights community.

“I’m a little torn with this” Washington Heights issue, he said Tuesday. “We put out a video. We showed what the school was going to look like, then we’re going back to the community to say, ‘Well, sorry our numbers were off.’ ”

Ramos told administrators, “I know you are working tirelessly, but I want to make sure our word means something to the community we serve. I’m hopeful that we are able to clearly communicate … we are going to do the right thing by each and every campus.”

Trustee Matthew Avila said he expected administrators to review costs across the entire bond package “in order to achieve the results that we sold to the public.”

Board members Ann Sutherland and T.A. Sims were absent.

Early plans were to build a new Washington Heights campus of 59,000 square feet. The size was publicized on the district’s website before voters approved the bond package in November. School officials have said the 59,000 figure was “erroneous.”

Washington Heights has about 347 students, district records show.