Tech Talk: Get Real

Oct. 1, 2008
Establishing a realistic estimate for education technology.

When establishing a budget for school building projects, administrators often give short shrift to education technology. Many continue to be baffled by how to establish realistic costs for these infrastructure needs — even though the past 20 years have proven that technology no longer is an optional add-on.

In a recent renovation and addition project at a 60,000-square-foot elementary school, the budget included $360,000 for education technology. This line item was placed in the bond referendum passed by the voters. Only after the bond referendum passed was there any talk about the specific scope of technology that the school needed. Where did the $360,000 figure come from? An initial estimate of $20,000 per classroom ($720,000 for 36 classrooms) was cut in half arbitrarily because of fears that voters would think the figure was too high.

After planners determined the school's actual needs, the low bid came in at $899,992; that's a shortfall of about $540,000. The response from the construction manager was: “Do the bricks and mortar now; you can always add the technology later.”

All too often, this story gets repeated in education institutions. The information is available to provide schools and universities with realistic cost estimates for technology systems. So, professionals owe it to their school clients to use solid data on cost projections for technology, just as they do for other building systems.

How much does technology cost for a school building? The technology systems for a school building include wiring infrastructure; data networking hardware, including network servers; an IP telephony system; a classroom presentation system, including a streaming video system; a paging/intercom system; an IP security camera and intrusion alarm system; and a wireless networking system. Establishing the cost estimate and then dividing it by the total square footage of the building provides a cost-per-square-foot cost. Based upon projects totaling about $25 million, technology systems for elementary schools cost about $11.90 per square foot, and for secondary schools cost about $14.75 per square foot.

How do these square-foot dollars (as a percentage of the total cost) break down?

  • Wiring infrastructure: 18.
  • Data networking: 18.
  • Voice communications: 8.5.
  • Streaming video: 36.
  • Security systems: 9.
  • Paging, intercom and clocks: 8.5.
  • Wireless network: 2.

These numbers will vary depending on the geographical area, and the quantity and quality of equipment selection. Still, having a benchmark for schoolwide technology systems helps establish a realistic technology budget.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in education facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected].

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