Rendering of plans for a new Duke Ellington School of the Arts Duke Ellington School of the Arts

Rendering of plans for a new Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

Audit criticizes ballooning cost of Washington, D.C., performing arts school

Projected cost of new Duke Ellington School of the Arts has grown from $71 million to $178 million.

The cost of building a new Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., estimated at $71 million in 2012, has mushroomed to $178 million, and the price has escalated without a comprehensive review by the D.C. council, according to a new report by the D.C. Auditor.

D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson says in a news release that cost increases can be attributed to the school's location, the decision to have underground parking, and an unusually high figure for space per student.

“The bottom line is that our school modernization program has had little discipline to date,” Patterson says. “We don’t use competition to help control costs, for example. There was no hard-dollar bid for the work on Ellington and, in fact, we don’t yet have a final construction price—and demolition began more than a year ago.”

The audit recommends that Washington, D.C., return to a traditional “design, bid, build” procurement process based on nearly complete plans followed by competitive bidding on the construction.

Construction of the 600-student school is scheduled to be completed in 2017. It is being built on the site of the existing school, but the audit questions whether officials gave serious consideration to other sites.

“Two other locations that may have cost less, based on various factors including historic designation and cost of parking, were considered but rejected, without public debate and without vetting by the D.C. Council,” Patterson says.

The audit also questions the size of the new Ellington facility. It will have significantly more space per student than other performing arts schools. Because students attend academic classes in the morning and performing arts classes in the afternoon, "substantial portions of the facility are unused a large proportion of the time," the audit says. "As a result, the total number of square feet built per student in the current plan is 466—significantly higher than...other performing arts high schools."

Video: Modernization of Duke Ellington School of the Arts

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