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SBA approves 46% increase in square footage allowance

CHARLESTON — The state School Building Authority took a vote Monday that SBA Chair Brian Abraham believes will hit the “sweet spot” when it comes to school construction projects.

The SBA approved a 46% increase in the square footage cost allowance, the first increase in the allowance since 2019.

Abraham, Gov. Jim Justice’s chief of staff, who also chairs the SBA, said the current allowance cost of just more than $300 a square foot is way below what construction costs actually are in the current inflationary times.

“We’re hoping with this change that projects should be pretty well-priced. So hopefully they’ll come in on estimate and we won’t have to fall back on the counties either,” Abraham said.

As reported by MetroNews recently, the SBA has had to add money to a number of projects in the last two years because the original amount of money awarded wasn’t enough due to several factors, including COVID and inflation. For example, the SBA gave the OK to supplemental funding for schools in Wood, Mercer, McDowell and Hampshire counties back in March, totaling approximately $38 million.

Abraham said the SBA can no longer afford to keep adding money to projects so they did a lot of research and decided to change the square footage allowance.

“When we stayed static we inevitably had to make supplemental funding and that was a change from what we’ve done in the past and we wanted to correct that now,” Abraham said. “I think we’ve kind of hit the sweet spot there, we hope.”

Monday’s unanimous vote increases elementary schools’ costs per square foot from $307 to $447, pre-K-8 schools from $305 to $445, middle schools from $302 to $442, and high schools from $300 to $440.

The SBA also voted unanimously to remove its 2021 policy of supplemental funding. Abraham said any projects that go over the awarded amount for a project will now fall to county school systems to make up the difference or cut back on their project.

“Once we approve the project then that’s the amount they are going to have to live by,” Abraham said. “That then falls back to the counties and the architects to make sure they sharpen their pencils and get the projects they bring us.”

The SBA used a consultant to help it determine the new square footage allowance. Construction costs from the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh regions were used to help determine the new rates.

“I have no reason to doubt his numbers. I have every confidence at what we’re at today is market rate,” Abraham said.

The new square footage amounts will be in effect in the next round of funding for school construction projects. The SBA will vote on which projects to fund in a Dec. 11 meeting. County school superintendents will make their presentations in Charleston on Nov. 13-14.

Other SBA moves

The SBA also gave approval Monday to changes in school facilities plans for Lincoln and Mason counties.

Lincoln County is planning to close Ranger Elementary School, sending the students to West Hamlin.

Mason County is working on a project that would add classrooms to Roosevelt Elementary School in Point Pleasant.