Many sources are available that give construction costs for new schools, additions and renovations. However, often the figures are regional, and often there is a question of what is included in the data. Therefore, estimating and controlling costs are a major challenge.
Horror stories abound of projects rife with cost overruns and other disappointments and frustrations, including items overlooked in the budget process, poorly managed "wish" lists, incomplete construction documents and unrealistic budgets. Such problems result from less-than-thorough planning, mismanagement and inexperienced individuals.
Construction costs are influenced by five major factors:
- Area and volume of the building.
- Materials and systems selected for the building and site.
- Accuracy and completeness of the construction documents.
- The economy at the time of bidding the project.
The first four factors are controlled by the design team. The fifth — the economy at the time of bidding — is an unknown. The construction economy may fluctuate rapidly depending upon the attitude, need and the amount of work under construction in the community for the bidders: the prime general, mechanical and electrical contractors, including the subcontractors and their suppliers. It is important for architects and engineers to have the time needed to develop a complete set of construction drawings and specifications. That will lead to more competitive bids and fewer change orders during the construction phase.
Costs are estimated in the beginning of design and updated periodically. These estimates are based upon several sources, including an architect's historical records that are updated using various cost databases. A district that must pass a bond referendum needs an architect that can accurately estimate the cost of that facility two or three years in the future.
A total budget must be developed — everything needed to move into a building. After estimating construction costs for the building and site, other costs are projected, such as fees, furnishings, equipment, textbooks, supplies, technology, security, off-site development costs, assessments, special consultants (if needed), hardware, theater, topographical survey, soil testing, local and state permit charges for building, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, water bond issuance costs, inflation factor to bid date and, finally, a contingency.
Cost control, or containment, begins during the initial project conception — not after bids have been taken for the construction of the building and site development, or the purchase of furniture, fixtures and equipment, supplies. It continues throughout the design phases, the construction document phases, bidding and construction. Cost control is an ongoing issue in many areas; the design must be kept in check to avoid unnecessary enhancements, difficult construction details, materials and systems that do not enhance the educational processes.
Anyone can design a "cheap" building or an "expensive" building. The real challenge is to design a school that meets the unique long-term educational, operational and maintenance needs of an institution, and to manage the process skillfully.
This process includes developing educational specifications, space program, design and construction documents; administering the construction; working together in the bidding of the furniture, fixtures and equipment; purchasing supplies; moving into the building; in-service training of personnel; and commissioning the facilities.
Thorough planning during all phases and working as a team with experienced professionals can help achieve successful cost containment.