Talk is not cheap: While Dover school board debated project, the district reportedly lost millions in savings

Dover Area High School in Dover Township, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Dover Area school board members unanimously accepted bids for the district's middle school project Thursday, despite the cost being about $1.2 million more than original estimates.

The approved construction cost total to convert the district's old high school into a middle school is about $6.9 million, compared with the $5.7 million anticipated for the project.

The board elected not to approve cost-saving alternatives that would have cut about $150,000 from the price tag. 

The final costs reflect increasing expenses and a dwindling number of bidders for school projects based on national labor shortages and low unemployment — meaning workers are more in-demand with a heavier workload, officials have said.

"I'm fearful of cost, especially with demand of construction and the fact that it's just exponential," said board member Amy Brinton.

Just in the amount of time it took to debate the project at the school board level, she said, the district lost millions it could have saved by starting earlier.

Bids were accepted with an 8-0 vote at a board meeting Thursday, Jan. 23.

Dover Area is not the only local district dealing with a limited number of bidders. Southern York County School District recently used the state's cooperative purchasing COSTARS program, in which districts can buy items using pre-bid prices and forgo a public bid.

"The climate we’re in right now with bidding, it’s a crazy climate," said that district's director of operations, Randall Buffington. "It’s hard to get those contractors to bid."

With a strong local economy keeping contractors busy, it was difficult to garner bids for Dover's middle school project. 

The original bids for general contracting, HVAC and plumbing came in Jan. 7, with a low general contracting bid from Dillsburg-based eciConstruction at about $3.94 million.

More:Officials: Strong economy might inflate cost of Dover school overhaul

Montgomery County-based Myco Mechanical put in the lowest bids for  HVAC, at about $1.19 million, and plumbing, at $507,000.

The board could not accept those bids at the time because the district had not received any electrical bids. That contract was re-bid, and two bids came in by the board's meeting on Thursday, Jan. 23.

The lowest bidder — Midstate Mechanical, a subsidiary of eciConstruction — was still more than $200,000 over original estimates.

Earlier in the month, Scott Cousin — senior project manager for Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates, the architectural firm handling the project — anticipated electrical bids would come in at about $1 million.

Midstate's bid came in at $1,272,151, putting the project total at about $6.9 million — but if the district chose some alternate project options to save $153,178, that total would come down to about $6.76 million.

Business manager Jennifer Benko said the district has $13.1 million in its capital reserve and plans to use $6 million cash to cover the project.

"To reduce the costs, we focused on the deducts," said Superintendent Tracy Krum.

More:For Dover High swim community, soon-to-be-demolished pool remains packed with memories

The board on Tuesday discussed whether it should spend money to do the approximately $153,000 in projects or deduct those costs for savings. If the district does not do them now, it could be $500,000 in another four to five years, said David Nelson, director of operations. 

"With the scope of this whole project, I'm just wondering if we are overthinking this in trying to save $153,000," said board member Charles DeLauter.

Several board members agreed that the cost was not so high as to outweigh the benefit to students of the new school, and it would save money down the road.

The board did save money by not adding several options, including air conditioning for its gym, band room instrument storage and remote locks for its assembly spaces, which would have added even more to the total cost.

Dover's middle school project is expected to be complete by early to mid-August, in conjunction with construction on the district's new high school, with some elements stretching into the fall.