City Council, high school site committee say cost estimates incomplete

Council says further cost review is up to the district.
Thursday, October 4, 2007 | 10:42 p.m. CDT; updated 10:38 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — Infrastructure cost estimates of the six sites proposed for a new public high school do not include road costs and have only minimal sewer cost estimates.

Dave Bennett, the engineer who prepared the estimates, said road costs were not included because of the difficulty making an accurate estimate. A road cost estimate would reflect the engineering firm’s opinion of development, not the likely future, he said. Bennett said more information was needed.

Boone County Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin said that estimating road costs is tricky because you have to establish what road projects are included.

“One of the things about roads, when you talk about improving roads around a school site, is where you start the improvement, and where you stop the improvement,” he said. “That’s the million dollar question.”

Schools Superintendent Phyllis Chase has said that she did not know the specific parameters the engineering firm would use to evaluate the costs. She said the high school site evaluation committee had requested those estimates from the firm at its last meeting on Sept. 18.

Committee member John McCormick, who lives next to the Vemer site, said the road costs are the most important question, and committee member Ben Londeree said he plans to discuss road costs at the committee’s next meeting.

“I’m going to guess that roads will exceed any of the other costs,” Londeree said.

Third Ward City Council member Karl Skala was also concerned by the omission of road costs.

“That’s a substantial cost,” he said. Skala said that this is a chance for the school district and City Council to cooperate to get the most information to the high school site evaluation committee.

“The city has that kind of expertise,” said Skala, referring to road cost estimates. “If the Columbia Public School District relies on Dave Bennett, and Bennett says he’s in a difficult position to do that, seems like the logical next step would be to get the best estimate, and it seems like the best way to get that is from the city.”

On Monday, the City Council discussed the possibility of having the city staff generate its own estimates. Discussion stopped when City Manager Bill Watkins said he had offered several times to make an estimate but that the school district had declined.

Sixth Ward Council member Barbara Hoppe said she hopes the evaluation committee will ask for the missing road information.

The City Council can request infrastructure estimates at any time but council members said they did not want to step on the school district’s toes.

“If we had four votes, we could post this information,” Skala said. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I would much rather have the school board request it”

For the city to publish the figures without being asked is a “strong action,” he said.

The evaluation committee received the estimates Thursday and posted them on the school district’s Web site.

Engineering Surveys & Services, the firm contracted by the school district, estimated telephone, cable television, gas, water, sewer and electric hook-up costs for each site. A survey of the Bass site, which had been submitted late to the school district, was included.

Londeree said he has no reason to doubt Bennett’s estimates. Elkin, Skala and Watkins expressed faith in Bennett’s work earlier this week.

In the estimates, Bennett addressed only the cost of servicing a new high school. For example, the sewer costs listed, which range from $0 for the Richland Road site, to $600,000 for the Vemer site, do not include capacity to service any future development that might crop up if a new high school is built. However, the chances of the city building sewer infrastructure that only services a high school are slim.

“I don’t think that they would build a sewer that served only the high school because they know that if there’s a school there, there’s going to be development in that area,” Londeree said.

Londeree said that sewer costs are typically shared between the developer and the city, called “oversizing.”

Oversizing is not additional sewer construction, but cost-sharing between a developer and the city to accommodate both the development and new growth in the area.

“The city’s policy with developers is to pay the difference between the cost of building the larger sewer and the cost of building the small sewer,” Londeree said.

Londeree, who earlier this month presented a report to the City Council comparing Columbia’s residential infrastructure costs to more than 40 cities, focused on residential development. His report did not include school development.

Londeree, Skala and Hoppe said they think the largest cost will be to develop roads. But the largest single cost listed in Bennett’s report is the $720,000 cost to extend a gas line to the Vemer property. The lowest gas cost is $32,000 at the Bass property.

Other costs are small in comparison. CenturyTel offered to extend telephone lines to all sites for free, and all sites have access to water lines. Cable television cost range from $5,000 at the Bass property to $104,000 at the Vemer property.

These costs will be discussed at the high school site evaluation committee’s next meeting, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at West Junior High School, 401 Clinkscales Road.

The agenda for that meeting includes a review of the Bass property, a discussion of the infrastructure cost estimates, discussion of how to rate the sites and a possible vote on the properties.

The committee will allow up to five minutes per person of public comment.

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