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Why is School Construction so Expensive? LA Supersize Me Edition

Lisa Snell
November 2, 2008, 12:45pm

Tomorrow, Los Angeles residents will vote on the largest local school bond in the history of the US--on the ballot at $7 billion. Dr. Jay Greene has been having a discussion about school construction costs over at his blog that is relevant to the LA proposition. He is covering local school construction and discussing whether buiilding a new Fayetteville high school is necessary or adds value. He asks why school construction is so expensive? As Dr. Greene explains:
What I do know is that according to the 34th Annual Official Education Construction Report the median new school built in 2007 cost $188 per sq. ft. for elementary schools, $211 per sq. ft. for middle schools, and $175 per sq. ft. for high schools. By comparison, the median cost per square foot to build a three story factory in 2007 ranged from $83 in Winston-Salem to $136 in NY City, with most major metro areas hovering around $100 per square foot. Schools cost almost double what it costs to build a three-story factory and even more than what it costs to build houses.
Keeping in mind Dr. Greene's numbers, last week in the Los Angeles Times Howard Blume reported that
The bond's total doubled at the 11th hour as part of a Villaraigosa-backed compromise that provided more dollars to charter schools in exchange for charter leaders' agreement not to oppose the measure. Critics, including longtime education activist Gene Krischer, said the bond's doubling epitomizes a program that has been too free-wheeling with other people's money. "The kids are getting something, but I don't think they and the taxpayer are getting their money's worth," said Krischer, who tracks bond-oversight meetings on behalf of a Sierra Club chapter. "The district could be building at a more reasonable cost." For some, one such manifestation is the landmark arts high school under construction downtown, which so far is costing about $1,000 per square foot. That doesn't include about $190 million spent to move the school district's headquarters, which once occupied that site.
Too free-wheeling with other people's money? You think!!?? One high school that is $1,000 dollars per square feet when the average cost for a high school is $175 and that is double what it costs to build a factory. I debate Superintendent Brewer on the $7 billion school bond here. I go into detail about some of the flaws of this proposed school bond here. By the way, as you can read in the Los Angeles Times article, charter schools oppose the bond measure.

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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