Nearly 60 schools are at or over capacity, but the district is now facing soaring construction costs
ABC Action News | By Stassy Olmos | July 7, 2022
HILLSBOROUGH, Fla. — The Hillsborough County School District is facing one hurdle after another to keep up with the growing population and make sure every student has a seat to learn.
As of this last school year, HCPS was facing capacity issues at nearly 60 schools. The district waited years for the funding to build new schools, it essentially needed the county to help establish roads and infrastructure so that they could build the campuses with new housing development impact fees.
But as soon as they secured the help, the cost to build the schools became yet another challenge.
“Right now the cost of construction is just skyrocketing in a place that we’ve never seen before,” exclaimed HCPS Chief of Operations Chris Farkas. “It’s a month-by-month increase. Usually, we’re looking at quarters or years for increases, right now every month, it’s gone up.”
The construction of schools is up 43% in the last three months and 90% in the last year, according to Farkas.
“That increase makes it so that it affects everything else we do. The cost of construction goes up directly based on cost of materials,” he explained.
For example, Sumner High School in Riverview is the district’s newest school. It was built in 2019 for 2,900 students and cost $74 million dollars.
The district’s new high school planned in Wimauma, set to open in 2025, is planned for 3,400 students, and its price tag is $165 million dollars.
“Relatively, it’s almost twice as expensive to build something four years apart,” he added.
During the pandemic, the country saw supply and demand issues affect things like microchips and lumbar, but now it’s everything used to build a school — including concrete, steel, and electrical switch gears.
“We’re seeing really unprecedented cost escalation, unprecedented supply chain issues as well as workforce issues,” added Joshua Bomstein, President of Creative Contracting who just started building a pre-k through 8th-grade school in Tampa for HCPS.
“Really, it’s never been more challenging to do what we do,” Bomstein said. “The problem really is that it hasn’t stopped yet.”
Their most recent notification came from glass manufacturer Oldcastle, alerting customers of up to 40% increases in materials used to make glass.
“Steel costs have increased tremendously, drywall and framing, electrical switchgear, mechanical equipment, concrete,” Bomstein went on. “Roofing has seen tremendous amount increases most of our roofing… Really, unfortunately, nothing is immune.”
And it’s not just one reason. Its from factories shutting down during the pandemic, labor shortages, the freeze in Texas in 2021, and even Amazon.
“Amazon…They were building factories, massive factories everywhere, which was eating up a lot of supply as well,” Bomstein explained.
Once they get the supplies, they’re still guzzling up cash to get the product to the site and construct new buildings.
“The war in Ukraine… the cost of diesel fuel is you know, the highest it’s ever been that’s impacting all of the transport of all of our materials. It’s having a significant impact on the site work component of our construction projects because that is very diesel intensive with lots of equipment moving around all day,” exclaimed Bomstein.
Lead times to get construction materials are also pushing projects out further.
At the end of June, Bomstein had this list of lead times for the second quarter:
- Precast concrete stormwater catch basins and manholes: three to four months
- Reinforced Concrete Stormwater Pipe: two to three months
- Steel Bar Joists:10 months
- Roofing insulation and certain roof types (TPO):10 to 12 months
- Storefront, Aluminum Doors, Curtainwall, and Prefab Windows: eight to 10 months
- Wood Doors and Hardware: six to eight months
- Food Service Equipment, Walk -in Cooler and Freezers: 10 months
- Elevators: eight months
- HVAC Chillers: eight to 10 months
- Air Handling Units: 10 months
- Reheat Coils: six months
- Fire Alarm Panels, Access Control Panels: six to eight months
- Electrical Switchgear: 12 to 14 months
- Emergency Generator: 14 months
- Light Fixtures: eight to 12 months
Right now, Creative Contracting is building four schools between Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties.
“It’s really requiring a lot of active planning and early planning in the process for construction projects to ensure that we have the materials when we need them and that we have the manpower when we need it as well,” Bomstein said.
We asked Farkas what the district needs to ensure schools can be built.
“The reality is we have to wait for impact fees or for sales tax to come in and sales tax has gone up. That’s a wonderful thing. But unfortunately, we still have deferred maintenance and ACs to fix in that part of it too, and the cost of those has gone up as well,” he said.
Without any construction cost relief in sight, the district is having to push school projects out about a year each.
Farkas is asking for patience.
“Understand the world we’re facing, the same challenge that everyone has, we will do it as quickly as we can,” he said. “But it may mean that we have to put kids in portables as opposed to a building.. things like that because we have to be good stewards of the tax dollars.”
Two years after opening, Sumner High is already above 130% capacity and just added 20 portables for a price tag of $200,000 each.
It’s a temporary fix that the district said is necessary to make sure every child can learn.
The good news is that HCPS does have several campuses already budgeted.
Dorothy C. York Innovation Academy constructed by Core Horus will open in Apollo Beach this school year.
Construction just started on Manhattan Magnet pre-k through 8th grade in Tampa, set to open in 2024.
The district will also be starting construction on the new high school in Wimauma, set to open in 2025.