On Tuesday night the Loudoun County School Board voted unanimously to award a $110.7 million construction contract for a new middle school to Howard Shockey and Sons.

The action came after a flurry of activity led by the Department of Support Services staff to save money on the construction after bids came in 25% over estimates. The School Board’s Finance and Operations Committee was briefed on the issue last week, urging the staff to continue negotiations with Shockey and Sons, which was the sole bidder to build the Brambleton-area school, known as MS-14.

“Obviously this is a concern. I’m just stunned at the 25%, but we have worked with [Shockey] in the past so this is not an unknown quantity, so at least we have a contractor that we have worked with,” School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said during the committee meeting.

The school system’s Support Services department also worked to identify other sources of funding to put toward the construction of MS-14, including looking at surplus funding from other projects. It is focusing on the capital renewals and operations program within the Capital Improvement Program that would allow them to defer or delete certain projects that would make the new school the priority of the program this year. However, the reallocation of funds from the capital program would require School Board and Board of Supervisors action.

That vote had to be completed by the board’s Aug. 9 meeting or risk having the bid expire before it meets again in September. Lewis said Shockey already had expressed concerns that its subcontractors were struggling to commit to a 30-day hold with the current market conditions.

On Tuesday, Lewis presented a new funding update that closed the gap on the budget shortfall, thanks to the award of $15.5 million through the commonwealth’s school construction grant program and shifting over surplus funding available from other construction projects. Those adjustments left a shortfall of only $1.9 million expected to be covered by another funding source, pending approval by the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.

Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) asked if there were worries about significantly higher cost in future school construction projects.

Lewis said it was a big concern and was causing staff members to have conversations and to collect data now to reevaluate the estimates for all the projects in the pipeline.

“We anticipate having to come back and adjust every project in the book,” Lewis said.

Planned to be built on the school division’s Hartland campus, MS-14 is expected to provide overcrowding relief to the Dulles North area middle schools, in particular Brambleton Middle School where enrollment exceeded capacity by 23% last fall according to Lewis. Brambleton Middle School has a designed capacity of 1,445 but had 1,631 enrolled in the fall of 2021. Current 2022-2023 registration numbers are at 1,631 but are projected to be 1,779. In order to accommodate the higher numbers, the school district moved a portion of the eighth grade to Independence High School, where they will use four modular classrooms that were added this summer.

Lewis said the current numbers show the dire need to get a contract completed and begin building MS-14 immediately.

“Enrollment will undoubtedly increase by the fall of 2024, exacerbating the issue,” Lewis said.

MS-14 is scheduled to open in the fall of 2024.

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