The latest estimated cost for the renovations of the Northampton High School building raised a few eye brows among the Board of Supervisors at Tuesday night’s regular meeting.

Originally estimated around $25,000,000, COVID-19’s disruption of supply chains along with a boom in spending due to multiple rounds of stimulus have increased the estimated costs of construction by 45%. The latest estimate now puts the price tag at $47,784,335.

The overall construction cost estimates are $38,227,468, but the additional costs, including contingency and ‘soft costs’ like furniture and construction management, now total $9,556,867.

“The soft costs are too high,” said Supervisor John Coker, who is on a joint committee with the Northampton School Board overseeing the development of the plan. “We have to work to get that down.”

School Superintendent Eddie Lawrence said Skanska, the construction company, reported they are beginning to see material costs begin to work back to more normal levels.

“I would like to see some effort to be frugal,” said Supervisor Betsy Mapp.

Northampton’s borrowing limit

The construction will be financed through the sale of bonds. The County has until October 5, 2021 to make the decision to issue bonds or not based on the plan. If the Board agrees to proceed, a bond sale would take place on October 19. The total amount borrowed would essentially max out Northampton County’s ability to borrow for a few years.

“The real money is in the interest,” said County Finance Director John Chandler.” We can talk about $100,000 here and $100,000 there, but a change of a half a percent in the interest rate will alter the cost of borrowing by $2.5 million.”

Supervisor Oliver Bennett said Northampton County needed new businesses in the County to help generate revenue to cover the financial burden of such an expenditure. He pointed to Coastal Precast, which is operating at the former Bayshore Concrete site, whose operations have generated a lot of County revenue.

But it wasn’t just the Supervisors whose eyebrows were raised by the latest estimates. During the Citizens Input Period, Sandra Behrens of Nassawadox said the Supervisors who voted for the school renovations did not anticipate such a high cost.

“We should take this to referendum,” said Behrens. “Such an expense would have to come with a tax increase, we need more citizen input since the price has changed so much.”

Board Chairman Dixon Leatherbury concluded the lengthy discussion saying he would like to see $5 million cut from the plan.