There are two aspects to the new North Atlanta High School project and the decisions made leading up to the approval of the project by the BOE.
The first aspect is the combination of information provided by APS staff to the BOE prior to a decision being made and the level of oversight the BOE performed prior to approving the project. I am clearly on record on both of these issues (see link here).
The second aspect (regardless of the process APS and the BOE followed) is – was the $71 million initial cost justified when the BOE made its decision to proceed with the project in April 2012?
Based upon my review of the numbers, my initial assessment is that in fact, the initial $71 million cost was justified given the entire scope and size of the project. The following are the cost and other factors that lead me to this conclusion.
Size of the Building & Student Capacity – the NAHS building has 507 thousand square feet of space and is far larger than any high school previously built by APS or schools in the surrounding districts (1,2). The NAHS can accommodate 2,400 students at capacity and provides an average of 211 square feet of space for each student. This amount of space is substantially more than the average 167 square feet of space that APS has built into its other high schools. However, the 211 square feet per student compares favorably with the neighboring district high schools that range from 139 to 239 square feet (at estimated capacity) with an average of 190 square feet. It is likely that the 9% above average square feet per student for the NAHS project is due to the constraints imposed by using an existing building that was renovated versus building from the ground up.
If you accept the space provided per student as reasonable – which I do – then the issue comes down to the cost per square foot.
Initial Cost Per Square Foot of NAHS – based on the capacity of NAHS, the initial cost per square foot for the building with the athletic fields added in, is $139.92. Again, this compares very favorably with other neighboring high schools which range from $128.51 to $152.69 and average $142.48 per square foot. In addition, the initial price paid per square foot compares favorably with the data for other APS building projects which ranged from $181.23 to $212.47(3).
Again, the data indicates that the cost paid per square foot was reasonable at the time the initial decision was to proceed with the $71 million project in April 2012.
Some have pointed to the incremental costs resulting from the “prevailing wages” that were required by the Davis Bacon Act. My estimate is that these incremental costs were in the $3-5 million range and possibly more. However, based on the actual initial cost per square foot noted above, the project stands favorably on its own and it is not necessary to make adjustments for the incremental cost associated with Davis Bacon Act.
In summary, while I strongly believe that the process followed by both the APS administration and the BOE was flawed and deficient, ultimately the decision made to approve the NAHS project was justified based on the space requirements and the known cost factors at the time the initial decision was made.
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