Huge cost overruns in the Broward County (Fla.) school district's facility renovation program, funded mostly with an $800 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2014, are being blamed on delays, inflation and a high demand for construction workers.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that the overruns have led to questions about whether there will be enough money for all 230 schools that are supposed to get upgrades in the program.
The school board is expected to be asked this week to approve significant cost increases for roofing and air conditioning work at two of the district's oldest and most decaying schools. The price tag for Stranahan High in Fort Lauderdale has climbed 82 percent, from $16.8 million to $30.5 million. The costs at Northeast High in Oakland Park has more than doubled, from $14.5 million to $31.4 million.
School Board members predict more large projects will come in well over budget, including renovation work at Nova High School in Davie and classroom additions at Charles Flanagan High in Pembroke Pines and Falcon Cove Middle in Weston.
District officials say they have plenty of money in reserves and are committed to completing all projects by 2021.
Board member Laurie Rich Levinson was less confident after seeing the costs so far. “If this is the beginning, it’s very clear we’re going to need to look at putting more money into our reserves,” she says.
Some worry there won’t be enough money for projects scheduled for the last years of the bond program.
Nathalie Lynch Walsh, a parent who sits on the district’s audit committee and facilities task force, says a major hurricane or recession could derail the program.
“Their entire plan hinges upon nothing going wrong economically for the school district,” she says. “The reserves they’re dipping into are the same resources they’ll have to dip into if we have a hurricane or a major downturn.”
Some members of the district's Bond Oversight Committee also have raised concerns about whether there will be enough money to complete the program.
District administrators say they’ve known for a couple of years that many of these project costs would increase, and have budgeted a reserve of about $225 million. That assumes about a 25 percent increase in costs overall.
“These are some the most complex projects. We anticipated they’d come in over, which is why we have a reserve of such a large magnitude,” School Superintendent Robert Runcie says.