OSWEGO — Project managers and consultants estimate a substantial increase to the Oswego City School District Capital Project budget, citing material price hikes, and workforce uncertainties ushered in by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Oswego City School District’s (OCSD) Capital Project — which is slated to provide improvements and renovations to the district’s seven buildings — has been steadily covered at board of education meetings throughout the last year. District officials have provided updates on a multitude of the project’s components, which are divided into five phases. They include the restructuring of utility systems at several buildings for cost-effectiveness, the establishing of new parking lots, and some health and quality of life improvements like the promise of lead-free water and carbon monoxide detectors.
The most notable component of the project, the new multi-purpose turf fi eld, is part of phase two and started hosting official contests earlier this spring.
But as the district navigates the project’s construction, with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 epidemic at its backdrop, project managers say the initial price tag of $63.1 million has also grown to a projected $87.3 million due to estimated cost increases. That new figure could decrease if the district lowers the scope of the project, according to Capital Project overseers.
The project was approved via a district taxpayers’ referendum in late 2018.
At Tuesday’s board of education meeting, Craig Dailey, a longtime project manager assisting OCSD with several construction and logistics matters, spoke on the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the Capital Project’s progress.
“The pandemic has had an impact on what we are seeing in the market as far as escalation of pricing,” said Dailey, who works at the Syracuse-based architecture firm King+King. “It has had impacts on the availability of contractors, materials, and we have seen shipping delays. More important to us, we cannot trust the schedule.”
Dailey said the firm has calculated an estimated 20 to 30 percent increase on the cost of projects.
“We do not know when that is actually going to come to an end,” he said. “The market is struggling to get back on its feet back to pre-pandemic times.”
Nationally, the price of materials has skyrocketed since 2020. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that, as of June this year, lumber prices in the United States rose 340% from their assessed value in 2020.
Phases one and two of the project, which Dailey noted are almost finalized, have used up $29.7 million of the $63.1 million budget. Phase one, which included a new district office and a pool for Oswego Middle School, has a price tag of $810,471, according to data provided by the district. The district had budgeted $785,000 for this part of the project when it was submitted to a referendum.
Phase two, which included the new multi-purpose turf fi eld, suffered a setback last year, as construction crews found traces of metal contaminants while creating a stormwater management floodplain in the area along Hillside Avenue, known as the former Wilber Field. The contractors found remnants of lead, arsenic, barium, and mercury, and OCSD then launched a $5.6 million soil remediation project to remove enough of the contaminated samples in order to place a 2-foot soil cover on the fi eld and then install the proposed practice fields.
All in all, Dailey said the final price tag for phase two is estimated at $28.9 million, which is approximately $4.4 million outside the financial scope set for this phase when the budget for the overall project was proposed in 2018. Only $700,000 is estimated to come out of OCSD’s pocket for the soil remediation project, as the district is set to receive a substantial amount of aid to cover the cost.
At the meeting, Dailey also announced phase three will be divided into two, with part “A” covering improvements to Fitzhugh Park, Charles E. Riley, Minetto, and Kingsford Park elementary schools. The estimated price tag for part “A” of the third phase of the project would total $13.6 million, which is approximately $5.6 million more than the money budgeted when the project was approved.
Additional upgrades expected for part “A” include the following:
• Kingsford Park and Fitzhugh Park elementary schools: Replacing doors and door hardware. Replacing stair railings and restoring masonry for the entire building.
• Charles E. Riley Elementary School: Replacing corridor and ceiling lighting. Building bathrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade classrooms.
• Minetto Elementary School: Replacing lighting along the corridors. Removal of classroom sinks. Restructuring of the entrance to the computer lab. Removal of second door into eight classrooms.
These overhauls to the elementary schools in the Port City would tentatively start construction in April 2022, and wrap up around September 2023.
For part “B,” the district will install upgrades to Oswego Middle School. As currently proposed, the price tag for part “B” would total $24.5 million, which is approximately $15.5 million more than originally budgeted for this phase when the project was voted on. The improvements to Oswego Middle School would begin during the summer of 2023 and wrap up around December 2024, Dailey said.
“The phase was split into two because there was a lot more design emphasis going into phase three part ‘B’ for the middle school,” Dailey said. “We decided to treat part ‘B’ as a separate project instead of trying to keep them both together.”
Board member James McKenzie asked if executing the work for phase three all at once would save the district money in the long run.
“Do we in the long term end up with any advantage by including these things now as opposed to under an additional capital project?” McKenzie asked.
Dailey responded that it could be beneficial for the timeline for the project.
“As far as the sequencing goes, I’d say there is a bit of efficiency there,” Dailey said. “But we are also going through the design phase where we are trying to isolate areas that can easily be renovated and reconstructed in the future without impacting the new work that is currently being done.”
Dailey added these figures presented are estimates and could be larger or smaller depending on how material and contractual costs continue to rise or eventually decrease.
Phase four, which consists of an overhaul to the softball and baseball fields at Oswego High School, would cost approximately $12 million, Dailey said. Work on this phase is still more than five years out, Dailey added.
Phase five, which would upgrade the current tennis and basketball courts, would cost approximately $8.1 million, Dailey said. Construction for this phase is not anticipated until at least 2029, Dailey said.
Ultimately, Dailey’s recommendation is for the district to re-evaluate the scopes of phases four and five in order to stay within the budget approved by voters in 2018.
While there is much for the board to consider in terms of finances, OCSD Superintendent Mathis Calvin III said the district is set to move forward with bidding for phase three, part “A.”
“We will be back with more information,” Calvin said. “We will move forward with the bidding for phase three ‘A’ and we will come back and share with the public real numbers to see how things end up.”