by Charles A. Monagan
Oct 14, 2011
10:38 AM
On Connecticut

School Construction: Robbing Us Blind


So I was reading about a high school construction project in Waterbury in which some local homeowners were in danger of being not only forced from their houses to make way for the new building, but also forced to accept payments that were considerably lower than the city's own assessment of the properties.

It's a shameful situation, but an editorial on the subject in the Waterbury Republican-American caught my attention for a very different reason. The paragraph stated: "Unlike the Kelo case, the Waterbury proceeding plainly qualifies as a public use. The city wants to take six homes to make way for a public vocational-technical high school on Birch Street. The $68.2 million school would be a boon to young people, who would be able to pursue training in the skilled trades and other hands-on professions. Moreover, the project would ease crowding in the city's three conventional high schools."

Excuse me? $68.2 million?

Are we just passively accepting the incredibly inflated costs of new school construction - or existing school remodeling - in Connecticut these days? Do we not see that this as one big reason why state government can't balance its budget or get its costs under control? And it's certainly not just Waterbury that is willing to accept these enormous costs without question (after all, the state is paying for most ot it). The new Harding High School in Bridgeport is slated to cost $78.2 million. Recent high school remodeling projects cost $74 million in New Canaan, $80 million in Westport and $68 million in Trumbull. Does the money have no meaning anymore? Are we so used to providing "whatever the children need" or "whatever resources the teachers demand" that there really is no limit at this point?

To see how we might compare with other parts of the country, I looked for and found a couple of projects that seemed to compare nicely - new building projects for high schools in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, and Oxford, Connecticut.

Cox Mill High School is located in a suburban area just north of Charlotte, N.C. It was opened in the fall of 2009. Set on 65 acres, its 232,000 square feet were designed and built to serve as many as 1,500 students. Cox Mill cost $32.5 million to build, or about $140 a square foot.

Oxford High School is located in a suburban New Haven County town. It was opened in the fall of 2007. Set on 50 acres, its 160,000 square feet were designed and built to serve as many as 800 students. Oxford High cost $47 million to built, or about $293 a square foot.

So it costs more than double per square foot to build a new, state-of-the-art high school in Connecticut compared with North Carolina.

It is good and proper for the people of Waterbury to be concerned for the residents who are being mistreated by the city as a new high school comes to town. But the rest of us should perhaps be more concerned about the runaway cost of school buildings in general these days. After all, it's not the building that's most important, it's what's going on inside the building that really counts.

School Construction: Robbing Us Blind

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