New middle school cost matches projection

Editor's note: A story in Sunday's paper incorrectly summarized costs associated with building a new Clovis middle school. The school will cost about $34 million to build, just as Clovis Municipal Schools officials estimated in 2009. The story that follows corrects erroneous information published Sunday.

Clovis Municipal Schools expects its decision to overbuild W.D. Gattis Middle School will quickly prove to be the right decision, and neither the budget or the goal has wavered during the last four years of its planning and construction.

The amount spent to date is $30 million, according to Jody Balch, CMS' deputy superintendent for operations, and another $4 million is expected to be encumbered, matching estimates given in October 2009 by Balch's predecessor, Joel Shirley.

From the beginning, Balch said, the district designed the school to house 900 students, despite the state's Public School Facilities Authority approving plans for a school that would have a core for 900 students but classrooms for 650.

School districts, with few exceptions, do not construct new schools or perform large-scale renovations on existing ones until the projects are approved by the state's Public School Facilities Authority. That's because the PFSA provides 80 percent of the monies for approved projects, with the district covering the remaining 20 percent.

However, the 80 percent is only provided for projects that fall within PFSA standards — meaning that a school district that overbuilds a school pays 100 percent of the cost of anything exceeding recommendations.

Based on enrollment figures within the elementary system, the district decided to build classrooms for an additional 250 students and immediately put the school at core capacity.

The district planned to spend more than $12 million — most of the $16 million it received in a 2010 bond election — on Gattis. It has so far spent $5.65 million on the 20 percent match of the PFSA's $22.578 million funding and $6.84 million on "above adequacy" expenses.

The additional classrooms have run an estimated $3.88 million, and the district hopes to offset that with an extra $3.1 million on top of the current PFSA award. CMS Director of Operations John King said, "the state will only fund when you have the students there," so the district will look at its 40-day count at Gattis. If that number is at 720 — 80 percent capacity for a 900-student school — the district will argue the student count justified its overbuild and request the PFSA change the total award to reflect that.

Officials are confident that will be the case. The Clovis school system currently considers seventh- and-eighth-graders to be middle schoolers at either Marshall or Yucca middle schools. Once Gattis is in operation as the third middle school, the three schools will also include sixth-graders to help lower population at its 12 elementary campuses, since the lower grades are showing the largest growth.

According to the 160-day count at the schools, there are currently 1,246 middle-school students between Marshall and Yucca. Next year, the eighth-grade students (615) will move on to the Clovis High School Freshman Academy, while the three middle schools will take this year's seventh-grade (731), sixth-grade (651) and fifth-grade (657) students.

That's 1,939 students, and assuming both Yucca (756) and Marshall (590) are filled to 80 percent of capacity (1,077), there are 862 students remaining that have to be put mostly in Gattis.

And that's just the first year. With steady growth each year — there are currently 655 fourth-graders, 695 third-graders, 737 second-graders, 770 first-graders and 750 kindergartners — current district numbers would mean 2,257 middle-school students in the 2019-20 school year.

Had the district built to specifications, Balch said Gattis might have needed portables in its first year.

"They (the PFSA) had to bless the design, and we designed it for 900 students," Balch said. "We believe this is a unique situation where we didn't want to underbuild."

Expenses encumbered but not funded by the PFSA include:

  • A second gymnasium ($2.961 million), which Balch said helps the school eliminate gym time scheduling difficulties with physical education and extracurricular athletics
  • Design fees ($176,000) for additional classrooms
  • Water rights acquisition ($50,000)
  • Extension of utilities ($22,000)
  • A water line extension ($230,000)

King notes that overbuilding now also made the most sense financially, based on many factors.

"It would have cost everybody more," King said. "It would have cost the state more, it would have cost the taxpayers more. You're doing additional demolition. You're doing it at a later date, so you (pay) more per square foot."

When the district overbuilt, it did so at a price of $189 per square foot. That same work today would go out to contract for $215 per square foot.

Fast facts

The Clovis Municipal Schools bond election is Tuesday. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting is ongoing until Friday during normal office hours at the Curry County Clerk's office.

The election would be a bond renewal, meaning current property tax rates of $4.95 per $1,000 of assessed property would remain in place. Of that $4.95, the bonds up for election make up about 28 cents of that total. Assessed property is one-third of actual value, so a $150,000 home in Clovis is subject to school property taxes of $247.50 with the current bonds in place and $233.50 if voters rejected the bond extension.

According to a release from the district, the $20 million would cover

  • A new James Bickley Elementary School, $3.5 million
  • A new Parkview or Highland elementary school, $3.5 million
  • Science lab upgrades, approximate $1.57 million
  • Parking lot/drainage improvements, approximate $4.62 million
  • Design work, approximate $680,000
  • Elementary playground replacement, approximate $5.37 million
  • Miscellaneous district projects, approximate $1.44 million

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