Cost Of School Upgrade Soaring

MOUNDSVILLE – An unexpected $8 million cost to upgrade the HVAC system in John Marshall High School’s main building will force the school district to make some difficult decisions about what upgrades will stay or go in the high school’s $16 million renovation project, according to Rick Milhoan, PCS senior vice president.

The Marshall County Board of Education met Thursday with Milhoan and Mark Manchin, executive director of the West Virginia School Building Authority, to communicate the board’s plans for the project moving ahead in light of the new financial restraints.

Milhoan said the school district had accounted for about $2 million in HVAC upgrades when they submitted the renovation budget to the SBA. He said the board had also recently inquired about the cost of a total renovation of the school’s current HVAC from electric to gas to determine the feasibility of including the upgrade in the renovation. Milhoan said the board’s reaction to the new system’s $8 million price tag earlier this week was “sticker shock.”

“Because that building is so huge and because we need to upgrade the electrical system to support a gas system, that drove the cost pretty high,” Milhoan said. “The building is 250,000 square feet. Anything you do will have a high price tag.”

Milhoan said the current electric HVAC system costs the county about $400,000 a year, and he estimates the more efficient energy system could save about 20 percent in energy costs.

Superintendent Michael Hince said the district’s efforts to include input from teachers and staff in the construction plans also created a “wishlist” that would drive the project severely over budget to $34 million if every suggestion were to be included. He said the district will have to make some difficult decisions about what renovation plans will be cut in order to stay within budget. He said a design and development plan is due to the SBA in March.

The board also addressed a financial issue surrounding bonds that were set to be sold in June that caused concern with the SBA earlier in the month. According to Hince, when the board first submitted a proposal to fund the renovation, part of the agreement was to sell $6.5 million in bonds in June through a bank to put toward the renovation budget. Manchin said the SBA was excited to see the board use private funding toward a building project so they could use Marshall County as an example of creating new ways to generate project funding.

However, he said the SBA grew concerned when the board failed to sell the bonds by June and began to suspect the county was not upholding their agreement with the SBA. He noted the SBA distributed funds to Marshall County early under the impression the John Marshall project would be completed quickly.

“The funds we gave were in the spirit of going on the fast track,” Manchin said. “Now this is $6.5 million we are sitting on. We made the distribution in February and now it’s October and nothing has happened.”

District officials said the bonds were not sold in June due to an unfavorable bond market. They plan to still plans to sell the bonds in November.