Northampton continues to grapple with high school project cost

October 25, 2023

Northampton County is working to get the total cost of the contract for the construction of the new high school down to around $80 million, at which point it appears it will move forward with the project, according to a report at Tuesday night’s meeting from Chairman John Coker.

The last bid for the project came in at $98.8 million. Following the jaw dropping number, a committee comprised of members of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors and the Northampton School Board met with the general contractor, Skanska. According to Coker, discussions with the contractor have led to the trimming of approximately $10 million, which included an immediate $4 million cut due to a sub contractor who was gouging being fired. The new plan includes the complete removal of the 1954 section of the school, which was originally going to be saved.

Further discussions led to a suggestion of delaying rehabbing the Career and Technical building, which would bring the price down another $6 million. The School Board felt there were several grants available for CTE purposes they could pursue in the future.

“The price is never going to get smaller with inflation where it is,” explained Coker during his presentation. “The price is going to go up $3 to $5 million every time you bid it out.”

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Supervisor Oliver Bennett asked County Finance Director John Chandler how much new money he thought the County needed to get the project underway. Chandler responded off the top of his head somewhere between $10 million and $20 million. Coker added the new money won’t be needed until 2025, giving the County some time to figure it all out. It can also come from multiple sources, such as the County’s rainy day fund, undesignated fund balance and School Board funds. The County has already borrowed $53 million for the project at low interest rates. They also received a $16 million grant from the Virginia Department of Education.

Initially told by their architects and the general contractor the project should cost $50-$52 million, the Supervisors and School Board were floored by the two bids coming in so much higher. Several have laid blame at the large amounts of federal dollars being pumped out chasing a finite number of materials and construction crews.

Charlie Kolakowski once again acknowledged the importance of the school project, but reinforced the County needed to make sure it was not neglecting other capital needs.

No decisions were made Tuesday night. Discussions between the School Board, the Board of Supervisors and the General Contractor will continue.

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