Class is back in session for the Sarasota County School Board. And if board members haven’t finished their back to school shopping, they should stock up on black pens and toss out the red.
The board met Tuesday for its first board meeting and monthly work session of the 2013-2014 school year. The new school year began with some good news from Chief Operating Officer Scott Lempe.
Lempe reported that reductions in construction costs statewide had slashed the estimated costs of multiple renovation projects under way at Sarasota schools.
Renovation work at Sarasota County Technical Institute (SCTI), originally forecast to fall between $172 million to $190 million, was revised down to a new price tag of $90.5 million — almost $100 million in potential savings and at least a 50% drop from the original bid. Lempe said that a dramatic drop in construction costs along with smart, practical compromises on building materials and the efficiency of project management, made the difference.
“Everything didn’t need to be gold-plated,” Lempe said at the meeting. “We never considered increasing the budget to be an option.”
Lempe compared the SCTI project to the 2009 renovations at Riverview High School, completed at the height of the recession, noting that the price per square foot of the SCTI renovation was $100 less than Riverview’s. SCTI will cost $140 per square foot, compared with $240 per square foot for the 2009 Riverview renovations.
SCTI is not the only School Board project to benefit from the economic turnaround. The renovations at Sarasota Middle School and Laurel Nokomis School, each estimated to cost $10 million, are both approximately $500,000 under budget, Lempe said at Tuesday’s work session.
The Venice High School renovations, which include a new culinary arts facility that opened Monday and a new performing-arts center due to open next year, also came in well in the black. The School Board recently approved an $8 million reduction in cost for the $90.5 million project, representing cost savings of 10%.
“That’s a credit to the contractor and the construction manager,” Lempe said.
The Venice High School renovations also include a new media center designed to encourage student interaction and a revamped front courtyard.
The cost savings from the renovation projects will benefit other Sarasota School Board projects. According to Lempe, the money saved from the SCTI renovation will be re-allocated within the School Board’s capital fund to meet other needs such as paying for more school buses, adding technology in the classroom and facility improvements at other area schools.
“Coming in under budget is a big deal,” School Board member Jane Goodwin said. “Especially with renovations.”
Other topics discussed at Tuesday’s meetings included:
• Two new channels will be included in the 2013-2014 line-up for Channel 20 programming. The new channels will provide more in-depth coverage on policy issues and help the School Board educate the public on legislative issues. “This will enhance our partnerships in the community,” said School Board member Caroline Zucker. “I’m excited.”
• The School Board discussed possibly tightening the belt on charter school funding. No action was taken, but the issue was discussed during a work session meeting.
• The School Board approved a dual-enrollment agreement with State College of Florida, requiring the school district to pay $72.23 per hour for each student enrolled, complying with a new law.
• A task force will report back to the board in several weeks to report its findings on a potential school employee health clinic, district health care costs and worker incentives.
• The School Board reports that the first day of school was a success. “Everything ran smoothly,” School Board member Shirley Brown said.
• The Food and Services Department won a national Best Practice Award from the USDA.
The next Sarasota County School Board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 3, at the Landings Administrative Complex, 1980 Landings Blvd., Sarasota.
Residents can call 927-9000 for more information.
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