Fort Worth

Despite rising costs, school district likely to replace Washington Heights

School district officials are expected to bite the bullet on escalating construction costs to replace an underground campus built in the 1970s.

“It will take more to maintain and upgrade [the old campus] than to build a new one,” said Wayne Warren, construction manager for AECOM Inc., the Los Angeles-based company hired by the Fort Worth school district to oversee construction.

The price tag on the new Washington Heights Elementary School could reach $13 million, officials said, a 30 percent increase over the voter-approved bond amount of $10 million. The increase is due to rising construction costs, school officials said.

The new campus was promised to voters in the $490 million bond package passed last year. It will replace the underground campus at 3215 Houston St.

Before more money can be set aside, school board members will have the final say. The board is expected to vote on the cost increase at its Oct. 28 meeting. A citizens’ bond oversight committee is expected to mull over the idea at an Oct. 20 meeting and make a recommendation to the board.

School officials rejected a series of construction bids with costs at least 25 percent more than the $10 million originally budgeted for the campus.

The latest plan is to seek new bids, school officials said.

Under current plans, the district wants to build a campus that is 59,000 square feet, the size publicized on the district’s website before voters approved the bond package in November.

Early plans had called for a school about the size of the current building — 40,000 square feet. (The main building is 27,000 square feet; the gym, 3,000 square feet; and the portable classrooms, 10,000 square feet.)

School officials have said the 59,000 figure was “erroneous.” But because the district website contained the information and the community expected a school that size, the plan is to build it, interim Superintendent Pat Linares said Monday.

“We’re going to provide what we told the voters we were going to provide,” Linares said. “It’s the right thing for the community and the right thing for the public.”

Board member Cinto Ramos, who represents the Washington Heights community, said its No. 1 priority is a school with plenty of room. A recent demographer’s report shows that the campus is a no-growth school, but Ramos is skeptical of that.

The school now has about 347 students, district records show.

At its September meeting, the bond oversight committee, including Linares, grappled with the idea that rising costs could hamper construction budgets.

“Are we anticipating $216 a square foot for every project? Is that what I’m hearing?” Linares asked Warren. “I want to make sure we are clear.”

Under the district’s 2007 bond program, construction costs averaged about $150 a square foot.

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