PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — Portage Public Schools is taking another look at some school building projects because of the rising cost of construction.
In June 2022, inflation forced administrators to take another look at major projects funded by a $175 million bond that voters approved in 2021. The money was earmarked to build five new elementary schools and renovate Moorsbridge Elementary. On Monday, cost estimates showed the district is more than $91 million short of fully funding the projects.
With the new price tag of around $266 million, administrators are wondering where they’re going to get the extra money from.
“There is a measure of difficulty when you’re dealing with cost or price index and you’re dealing with the rising cost of inflation,” Johnny Edwards, assistant superintendent of operations, said.
Edwards laid those numbers out to board members on Monday, including that the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report of school construction costs cumulatively increasing by 37.5% from January 2018 to February 2023. Prioritizing new construction over renovations, he told them the current $175 million in funding will now cover four elementary school projects instead of five — Central, Haverhill, Woodland and a fourth unnamed school.
“We did not want to scale back the project so much that it wasn’t a true representation of what our parents, our families, our students, our teachers … see in Portage education,” Edwards explained.
The district wants to use building site and sinking funds and previously unused expenditure funds plus apply for federal and state grants to help cover the added costs. But Edwards says that doesn’t completely answer the $91 million question.
“All three of those measures together don’t close the gap in its entirety,” Edwards explained. “It’s just one way to chip away at the gap. We just want to be conscious of our options and explore those as time goes on.”
Another option could be a future bond proposal in 2025 or 2026. That’s the route Caledonia Community Schools went — its voters narrowly approved a $61 million supplemental bond last week to cover increased construction costs.
Edwards said if Portage was to greenlight another bond request, it would not include a millage increase.
“We’re working with our bond counsel on that,” Edwards said. “While this is two to three years away, as we get closer to those types of decisions, we’ll give more information.”
“We want to make sure that we’re developing a plan that meets what the voters approved, gets us as far along on that path as possible and ultimately allows us to keep our debt millage rate at the same as it is right now,” Portage superintendent Mark Bielang added.
With the current funding and construction timeline, the district anticipates Central and Haverhill elementary schools to be built and ready by August 2024, while Woodland will be finished in August 2027 and the fourth unnamed elementary school by August 2029.