Yesterday, two important state reports on studies conducted on school district capital construction projects were released. Both studies were required by legislation passed last year, HB 7029. This bill addressed a variety of issues including, but not limited to, education funding, school choice and open enrollment, charter schools, personnel, and school construction. In addition to other capital construction issues, the bill directed the Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) to conduct a study of the cost per student station amounts set forth in s. 1013.64(6), F.S. and also directed the Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to study the State Requirements for Educational Facilities (SREF) that are contained in the Florida Building Code. These reports may give rise to legislation during the upcoming Legislative Session. Both of these reports have been posted on the FSBA website on the Facilities & Planning page of our Resource Room. A summary and a direct link to each report is provided within the links below.
We are in the process of analyzing the extensive EDR Report on the Cost Per Student Station, but here is a quick look at the recommendations:
- Apply Cost Limits to Facilities Construction Only – this would exclude costs that are currently used in the existing cost per student station calculations and would allow the cost to be both regionalized and grown based on an appropriate construction cost index.
- Use Cost per Square Foot As the Relevant Metric — these base estimates should be reviewed, re-evaluated, and revised periodically and a benchmarking exercise be conducted on a regular schedule.
- Option to Use One Area or Regional Areas — EDR presents two geographic options for applying the square foot cost limits: Either a single statewide Florida-specific construction cost per square foot for each type of school (elementary, middle and high); or six regional Florida-specific construction costs per square foot for each type of school (6 regional elementary, 6 regional middle, and 6 regional high).
- Forecast based on Historical Data and Selected Option – Depending on whether one single statewide area or regional areas are used, EDR presents a distinct method for growing each of the cost per square foot options. In either case, EDR recommends that the forecast of cost per square footage by school type be generated annually.
The EDR Report also lists several special considerations that should be taken into account when applying cost limits. This suggests the need for some flexibility and/or further study in applying the square foot cost limits, especially for those costs that had been included in the cost per student station calculation but are not included in the square foot calculation. For example, the report acknowledges that square foot limits may not be applicable for the construction of very small or very large facilities. Other special considerations listed in the report include, but are not limited to, the widely varying cost of furniture, fixtures, and equipment, facility maintenance costs, local availability of construction professionals (architects, engineers, contractors, etc.), cost for remodeling or additions, and incentives for project cost savings.
It is important to note that HB 7029 established new policies with regard to the cost per student station, including sanctions for exceeding those costs. If the Legislature chooses to adopt the recommendations of the EDR Report, the provisions of HB 7029 would need to be reexamined.
The OPPAGA Report on State Requirements for Educational Facilities (SREF) is much easier to summarize. OPPAGA did not identify a compelling reason to eliminate the SREF. In addition to consulting with various state level entities, OPPAGA conducted a survey of school districts and found that the vast majority of school districts (55) believe that the SREF provides value and should be retained. Although several districts recommended modifications to specific SREF requirements that they believed would reduce construction costs without affecting student safety, there was little consensus among the districts concerning which requirements to modify and how to do so. After evaluating the recommendations, OPPAGA identified 10 that the Legislature may wish to consider, but stated that these modifications would result in minimal cost savings and each has potential drawbacks. In addition, the Report includes a response from Commissioner Stewart in which she expresses support for maintaining current requirements for nearly all of the 10 areas identified by school districts.
In addition to these items, the OPPAGA Report notes that districts questioned the appropriateness of current space standards for educational facilities. In her response, the Commissioner states that additional resources would be needed to convene a working group to examine this issue. Further, the Report notes that several districts expressed concern about the requirement that districts pay for upgrades necessary to have schools function as community emergency shelters and the Report provides some useful background on this issue. Commissioner Stewart’s response also acknowledges this as a significant concern, particularly with the scarce capital outlay resources available to school districts. However, neither the OPPAGA Report nor Commissioner Stewart’s response offered any recommendations to address this concern.