CLERMONT, FL-Three years ago, the Lake County school board could have built a needed 287,000-sf campus with a capacity for 1,864 students for $28.5 million or $15,290 per student ($99.30 per sf). Indecision on a suitable site, however, delayed construction. Now the board has selected a location, but the cost of the school has jumped to $39.5 million or $21,190 per student ($137.63 per sf).

School board members are incredulous, even though Orlando-based Ajax Construction Co., the project’s construction manager, had cautioned the board that delay in site selection might increase costs. Still, Ajax says, the $137.63 per sf cost is in line with current average costs of $138 per sf for comparable school projects. That doesn’t make elected board members feel any better, knowing taxpayers are footing the bill for the additional costs.

The site is south of State Road 50 and just west of Hancock Road, 25 miles west of Downtown Orlando. The increased cost also puts the board in a dilemma: where does it find the additional $11 million to pay for the school, which must be ready for classes in August 2002. Ground-breaking is scheduled in five days, on Dec. 26.

“It’s a typical Catch-22 situation,” Scott Vordeburg, a division manager at Accord Industries, a diversified construction materials manufacturer in Winter Park, tells “They obviously have to have that school built now so the only alternative for them is to use funds earmarked for other later repair, renovation or addition projects that may have to be postponed.”

The board also may have to go to the state for additional handouts. The Legislature gave the Lake County school district $34.8 million in 1997. Board members figured they could get the new school built then for about $24 million or $12,876 per student ($83.62 per sf).

Another option, which no one favors, is shaving the $39.5 million cost by eliminating the brick exterior, pitched roof and other cosmetic items. Most of the items suggested for elimination, however, are maintenance cost-saving features, putting the board again in a Catch-22 scenario.

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