Inflation worries high school builders in Coupeville

Over the next year, a new high school in Coupeville will be designed. While architects take into account the needs of the students and teachers, they will also have to take into account inflation that is causing sharp increases in the price of construction materials.

The school district planned for a 3- to 4-percent inflation rate this year. Now that rate looks to be between 6 percent and 10 percent.

“We’re currently facing inflation that’s without precedent in the building industry for the past 20 years,” said Gary Goltz, construction manager for the Coupeville School District. He added that costs for the high school could increase 24 percent over the duration of the construction project.

Funding for the high school is paid for by a $22.8 million bond issue voters approved last May.

“It means that we will have to follow the priorities set by the board,” Goltz said.

Those priorities place the high school construction, a new roof for the high school gymnasium and a physical education/health/locker room facility as more important than a covered play area at the elementary school and a resurfaced parking lot at the high school gym.

Goltz said the spike in inflation is attributed to several causes, among them tremendous pressure for building materials in foreign countries such as China and increasing energy costs.

He added that China is going through an enormous building phase that stems from a strong industrial base. That demand is increasing the worldwide cost for steel and wood.

School officials hope to deal with the inflation problem as plans for the high school are developed in the next year.

“Essentially right now we’re trying to tie down the high school project,” said Bill Myhr, superintendent of the Coupeville School District.

Goltz said he plans to pursue more matching funds from the state. The school district is expecting to receive an estimated $900,000 in state match that is funded by state timber revenues.

He has a history of getting additional money for school construction projects. As construction manager for the Oak Harbor School District, he was able to acquire an extra $13 million in matching money and grant awards for construction projects.

Goltz said he probably won’t be able to find as much extra money in Coupeville because there aren’t as many projects as there were in Oak Harbor.

Other ideas include looking at different kinds of building materials and finding a way to build an economical facility within budget while still meeting the needs of students.

He added the new high school will be designed to accommodate future growth.

“We’re going to build an infrastructure that will allow more classrooms later on,” Goltz said.

Myhr said the school district will have to decide whether to move forward with the Engle Field project if the cost for the high school increases.

“We want to take care of our first priority,” Myhr said.

The Coupeville School Board met in a workshop session Monday night to discuss costs of the high school. No decisions were made and the school district will make adjustments to deal with the unanticipated increases in the next year. The high school project is expected to go out to bid in fall of 2005.

The increase in inflation evolved over the past six months, after the school district originally calculated costs for the bond. Goltz said school districts in the state began noticing the sudden increases last summer. Many of those school districts had projects that came in over budget.

“That was a wake up call,” Goltz said.

He expressed confidence that the high school can be designed within budget over the next year and will meet the needs of the community.

“We’re going to build absolutely a first class high school,” Goltz said.

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