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School construction costs soaring

School construction costs soaring



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The state's largest school district is struggling with increasing construction costs.

In 2003, an elementary school building cost the Jordan School District $7 million. But now that same plan costs $15 million, said Randy Haslam, the district's director of new construction.

The district says the cost of materials has risen along with the cost of land. Increased copper prices have driven the cost of electrical systems up by at least 200 percent. Drywall costs up to 90 percent more and land that used to go for $50,000 an acre is now $300,000 or more. "We're at the mercy of those changes," Haslam said.

All new schools being built by the west-side district -- which expects an additional enrollment of 20,000 children by 2016 -- will be on year-round schedules so they can house more students, Haslam said. "The number of students we need to house is screaming for more buildings," Haslam said.

And Jordan is not alone, said district Superintendent Barry Newbold. "I've spoken with architectural firms across the valley and they're saying the same thing," Newbold said.

Jordan and other school districts enjoyed stable costs for almost everything needed to build a school for many years. Between 1998 and 2003 the rate of inflation on construction costs was in the single digits, said Burke Jolley, deputy superintendent for business services at the Jordan School District.

In 2004 the increases began -- the year after voters in the district approved a $196 million bond to fund school construction. But because the bonding estimate was based on past costs, the district was unable to build two middle schools and an elementary school it had planned. "You just run out of money," Newbold said.

Using a two-story design on elementary schools -- usually only middle and high schools are multilevel -- can save on land costs. But Newbold said the new approaches only help so much. "You don't save much on the building, because you still have to make code, which can be costly," he said.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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