The estimated cost for the renovation and expansion of Pottsgrove High School keeps going up.
Tuesday night, the school board — and the public — learned that the estimated cost of the project — $32.9 million — is $2 million more than the first estimates offered last May.
Further, the architects persuaded the board to spend as much as $65,000 to pay a consultant to prepare and oversee a state “green energy” grant which could add as much as another $1 million to the cost of the project, but potentially net as much as $2 million in reimbursement.
In order to receive the maximum grant amount the school, when finished, would need to meet the “gold” standard of environmental sustainability, called a LEED rating.
LEED is an acronym for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and the standards are set by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Mike Kelly, architect from the Hatfield-based KCBA Architects and the renovation project’s chief designer, told the board the grant will pay 30 percent of the project’s cost, up to $2 million, provided the project is ultimately judged to have met the LEED Gold Standard, which Kelly called “a very high standard.”
And there is risk.
Under the grant’s guidelines, the school district submits eligible bills to the state as the project moves forward and, if the building ultimately fails to meet the standard, “you could owe the state $2 million,” said Kelly, a possibility he described as “the nightmare scenario” and the thing hiring the consultant is meant to avoid.
The project, as currently designed, had already planned on numerous energy-saving improvements, Kelly said.
However, to meet the LEED standard, the district would have to add costs to the project it had not previously planned on incurring.
Kelly offered examples like new plumbing in the locker rooms, upgraded heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and possibly even solar panels.
“You might have to spend $1 million to get $2 million,” he said.
The board had to make the decision Tuesday night because the application is due by Friday.
“We apologize for springing this on everyone like this,” Kelly said.
He said his firm has already begun gathering the documentation needed to apply and said he believes the chances are good the district would receive the grant.
“Boyertown just applied and Hatboro-Horsham just received the grant,” he said.
The board voted unanimously to spend “up to $65,000” on the consultant’s services and to move ahead with the grand application.
As for the increase in costs not related to making the high school a “green building,” KCBA Project Manager James Keiffer outlined those details to the board Tuesday.
He noted that in May, 2013, the initial estimates for the rehabilitation and expansion project were estimated at $30,901,992.
In September, as more details were fleshed out, the estimate climbed to $31,359,457.
By last month, estimates had climbed to $32,928,777.
Reasons for the increases included “some things no one had anticipated,” said Keiffer.
“The science department said they needed another science lab, and science labs are expensive,” Keiffer said.
Also added to the project was the decision that the school’s data cabling, which is now 20 years old and is simply “run along on top of the drop ceiling,” would be damaged in the renovation and so, should be replaced.
That adds about $300,000 to the project, said Keiffer, who added “but you will have a state-of-the-art data system for the next 20 years.”
A more detailed study also revealed “problems with the theatrical lighting. It is old, costly to maintain and there are safety concerns,” Keiffer said. Replacements would add $165,000 to the costs.
In meeting with Lower Pottsgrove Township code officials, Keiffer said several fire code issues were identified. Implementing them will add $75,000 to $85,000 to the cost of the project.
Additionally, it had been determined that it would be best to “mill down and re-pave all the parking lots and driveways at the building, most of which don’t have much life left,” Keiffer said.
Doing that work in concert with the rest of the renovation would result in a more competitive price, said Keiffer, estimating the cost at $230,000.
Since it was first proposed — when plans included an expanded cafeteria, more science and technology labs, more space for guidance offices and more space for art and music — the renovation project has been expanded to include a new gymnasium as well as artificial turf for at least one of the athletic fields.
Business Manager David Nester told the board that despite the increase in price, he still believes the district can pay for the renovation without raising taxes to cover the debt. This would be done by extending the debt over a longer period of time, Nester said.
He offered, and the board accepted, to have the district’s financial advisor come to a subsequent board meeting and explain the details.
The high school project will also require a variance from the Lower Pottsgrove Zoning Hearing Board. That hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 6 p.m.
The schedule calls for land development approval to be granted in March; for the project to be put out to bid on March 11; for bids to be awarded on April 22 and for construction to begin in June.