Three school construction projects in the $350 million bond that voters approved in 2016 will be postponed because of rising construction costs.
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education voted Tuesday to delay building a middle school at Smith Farm and additions at Ward and Griffith elementary schools.
District leaders told the school board in June that it is facing a $63-million shortfall unless there are changes made to the final projects on the bond list. Eight projects remain from the bond, which focused on construction and technology and security upgrades.
Construction prices have soared from about $175 a square foot when the bond was developed to $350 a square foot, putting the district in a quandary.
“These are just projections,” Nick Seeba, the district’s director of facilities and construction, said about the fluctuating construction costs. “With the economy the way it is, things can change in an instant.”
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Projects at Smith Farm, Ward and Griffith have now been struck from the bond list because expected enrollment surges never panned out. The public should consider those projects postponed and not entirely canceled, district officials said.
The school board also gave the district the go-ahead to get construction costs for a renovation at Philo-Hill Middle School based on an updated design that is more expensive than what was described in the 2016 bond.
Those construction costs should be available in four months, Seeba said.
The school board voted in 2020 to build a bigger school at Philo-Hill and develop a magnet program there to attract more students at a school that has had sagging enrollment.
The district had indicated in past meetings that renovations at East Forsyth could be impacted by the Philo-Hill project, but Seeba said Tuesday that he expects the school district to have enough money to renovate Philo-Hill and East Forsyth.
The district is expected to present a contract for design work at East Forsyth to a committee of the school board in October. Work at East Forsyth is not expected to begin for another year.
The work at East Forsyth would involve fixing those breezeways, updating bathrooms and expanding the cafeteria, which can seat about 340 students. Enrollment there is about 1,500 students.
During public comments, people talked about the needs at Philo-Hill and East Forsyth.
Rusty Hall, the principal at East Forsyth, said his school’s bathrooms and cafeteria are too small, and the breezeways that link buildings do nothing to protect students from the weather.
“Our facilities do not match the people inside the building,” he said. “Facilities are outdated, and as leaders of the school, it keeps us busy.”
Lilly Pike, a student at East Forsyth, said conditions at the school are not conducive to learning. She cited the deteriorated breezeway covers and uneven concrete sidewalks that make for an uncomfortable learning environment.
Vikki Heaney, the new media coordinator at Philo-Hill, called the condition of the school “horrific.”
“It’s what I would call full of Band-Aids,” said Heaney, who described a leaky building with poor air quality. “Sometimes the media center is 60 degrees; sometimes it’s 90 degrees.”
Sam Ball, who teaches at Philo-Hill, said conditions at Philo-Hill make students feel neglected. He asked the school board to pay for a new school that students would want to go to.
The bond has consisted of four phases, with about $87 million available every two years.
“We don’t get a lump sum of $350 million to work with,” Seeba said. “We get the money in pieces.”