Construction costs drive up budget of Solana Vista rebuild

Solana Vista School will undergo a complete reconstruction next year.
(Karen Billing)

The Solana Beach School District is facing about a $5.7 million shortfall in its Solana Vista School rebuild project due to construction escalation costs.

The school board held a workshop on Oct. 24 to discuss its options moving forward including eliminating the scope of the project and finding cost savings through value engineering. Another option would be to simply increase the budget which the board members were not in favor of as it could impact other Measure JJ projects across the district.

“I do think we need to make some savings, I think being $5.7 million over is too much,” said Vice President Richard Leib.

The board is expected to make a decision at its Nov. 14 meeting regarding the scope and budget for the rebuild. Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger said the district will explore its options without compromising student safety, impacting instructional goals or the district’s commitment with Measure JJ to provide parity district-wide.

As much as possible, they will look to stay on budget while building a school that the community can be excited about and proud of: “We don’t want to take out what will make it shine,” said board member Gaylin Allbaugh.

The district laid out its long-range facilities master plan in 2012-13, which at the time included options for both a modernization and a complete reconstruction of Solana Vista. In 2016, the district developed the bond program for Measure JJ and the Solana Vista project’s budget was set for $35 million for construction in 2019-20.

The district’s consultant Blaine Yoder, project director at TELACU Construction Management, said the district did not have the assigned scope for the school in 2016 but allocated $35 million for the project, which included a 10 percent construction escalation cost that was considered conservative at that time.

According to the district’s consultants Erickson Hall, construction cost escalation rates are often very different from inflation rates and costs have increased an average of 3.1 percent annually. From 2011 through 2016, costs increased an average of four percent with 2016 reaching eight percent alone. The rapid expansion of costs is attributed to the cost of materials, regulation and capacity.

While the district had estimated 10 percent, the actual number is now 12 percent bringing the estimated budget for the rebuild to $40.7 million.

“We took a lot of criticism for using 12 percent when we talked about building school number eight but it is real,” Brentlinger said.

The new Solana Vista campus on Santa Victoria in Solana Beach is designed to be a single-story campus with 24 classrooms, a new multi-use room and full-service kitchen for students. Options to shrink the scope of the project included eliminating two classrooms, solar arrays, interior corridors and the multi-purpose room. All of those changes would amount to savings of $6.4 million.

Brentlinger said she would not recommend eliminating the interior corridors, making classrooms only accessible from outside of the building. Other district schools include interior corridors for safety reasons as well as for extra instructional space, she said. As the corrdiors are fairly large at 14-15 feet, the district will explore the savings if they were reduced to 8-10 feet.

The board was also hesitant to eliminate solar as environmental concerns were a big part of the feedback they heard from Solana Beach residents. Additionally, Allbaugh noted as soon as the solar arrays were installed they would save money on electrical costs.

Value engineering items included reducing the footprint of the multi-purpose room, reducing interior corridors and reducing landscaping.

In June, board members had already suggested converting the multi-purpose room’s lobby area into a more functional space as the building will be geared more toward families and kids rather than hosting the type of events that would necessitate a lobby.

Board member Debra Schade noted that with reducing the size of the facility, they would look to take away space that is not meant for students. Eliminating the 400-square-foot lobby and storage in the multi-purpose room could shave off about 1,000 square feet which would bring the size to 1,774 square feet.

Another value engineering item included reducing the landscape by half, a savings of $371,837 which would mean less mature trees, reducing the quantities in select areas and increasing spacing between plantings.

Leib had concerns that the savings would not be worthwhile as one of the community concerns he heard most with Skyline was that the landscaping was “barren.”

Board members said throughout the design process they heard the community “loud and clear” about not losing the trees around Santa Victoria, and San Patricio neighbors also shared desires to have some buffer between the street and the school. The input has been favorable of the resulting landscaping plan, which brings a lot of color and includes native and drought tolerant plants, Brentlinger said.

“We don’t want it to look barren and we want to put in something that the community can be proud of as well since they’re paying for it,” Leib said. “We went through great pains to get consensus and a project that was well-liked. I would urge that we not look at decreasing landscaping.”

Other cost-saving options the district will now consider is reducing the size of the music room (now at 1,000 square feet) and the technology lab—as the district has moved toward 1:1 devices, Brentlinger said they will look at whether there is some flexibility on the size of the school’s tech lab.