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Compare the costs of Twin Falls, planned bond middle school
On April 26, residents of Snoqualmie Valley will again be asked to vote for a bond issue primarily intended to fund the construction of a new middle school on the Ridge.
Of the 56.2 million dollars total in the bond issue, approximately 48.3 million is allocated for the new school. The proposed school is being built on land already paid for and will utilize plans previously used to build Twin Falls Middle School (saving almost half a million dollars).
In 2003, Twin Falls Middle School was authorized by a voter-approved bond issue of $22.7 million. We have yet to see in any of the information provided by the school board or the Snoqualmie Valley Record an explanation of how the cost of building the same school has increased so dramatically in such a relatively short time, during a failing economy, for construction and home values among other things. This is a 113 percent increase in cost representing a compounded interest rate of approximately 10 percent per year. Referencing WAC 458-30-590, the total compounded inflation rate in Washington for the entire eight years starting in 2003 is less than 19 percent.
As an indication of the impact of the local economy on construction costs, Engineering News-Record states “The steepest decline (in western states) recorded... was for Seattle construction costs which have fallen 5 percent during the five quarters between the end of 2009 and the end of 2010.” Given the economy, there is no reason to believe this trend is going to change in the near future. Furthermore, the current Prime Interest Rate is lower than it was in 2003.
We are challenging the board and the Record to provide a reasonably detailed accounting of the justification for such an apparently excessive cost increase. We would also like to be assured that the proposed new school on the Ridge has exactly the same standards as those incorporated in Twin Falls Middle School.
We note that “local school support” already makes up almost 30 percent of taxes owed and are the largest single item accounting for the overall tax increase in 2011. The school board should not take it for granted that they will simply gather up one more vote and prevail in the next election.
Jack and Lynn Winchester
Editor's note: Snoqualmie Valley School District Finance Officer Ryan Stokes replies:
We appreciate your question and the time spent researching the facts surrounding the bond. You are correct that the amount for Twin Falls Middle School in the 2003 bond was $22.7m. However, that amount was based on cost models/estimates developed in 2002. When the project was bid in 2006, construction costs had increased substantially from the 2002 estimates, and final project cost totaled $30.5m. We were able to bridge the gap between the bond amount and the final cost by utilizing impact and mitigation fees. Subsequent to the 2006 bid, construction costs were escalating at 10 percent per year or more through 2008. Our current cost projection is in fact based on 2010 costs (as provided to us in an estimate done by Project Dimensions in the fall of 2010), with some anticipated cost escalations between 2010 and 2012, when we expect to go out to bid.