State Journal

Cutting Costs

Indiana sees progress on push to trim school construction costs.

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Indiana is still building big, expensive schools.

But the projects got a little smaller after Gov. Mitch Daniels put the hammer down on school construction last year.

That’s according to a report released this month by the governor’s office, which concludes that Indiana taxpayers saved $90 million from new guidelines that seek to rein in school construction costs.

“We’re still above the national average, but we’ve made a lot of progress in a year,” Gov. Daniels, a Republican, said in a statement.

Two weeks after his 2005 inauguration, Gov. Daniels put a 120-day halt to school construction while his administration drafted guidelines, based on national averages, on what the cost per square foot of new school construction projects should be. At that time, the governor criticized building projects as being too large, too sports-focused, and too expensive. ("States Scrutinize School Construction Costs," May 4, 2005.)

Construction projects, which are largely financed by local property taxes, are now subject to more scrutiny from the state.

The results, though, haven’t been dramatic.

According to the 12-page report, after the new guidelines were implemented, the cost per square foot of new schools in Indiana still went up 1.6 percent, but those schools were 5.7 percent smaller than those proposed in 2004.

And those projects still exceeded national averages. In 2005, projects cost 0.75 percent more and were 39.3 percent bigger than the national average. Before the new guidelines, however, projects exceeded the national averages by even larger margins, the report points out.

Overall, the state approved $1.3 billion worth of school construction projects last year, or $682 million more than the year before.

Since the guidelines took effect, the state hasn’t rejected any building projects.

Nor have the guidelines significantly changed how school districts design and build new schools. But the scrutiny has prompted school officials to more closely review their plans, said Dennis Costerison, the executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials.

“I didn’t think we were in terrible shape to begin with,” he said, “but this has prompted some fine-tuning.”

Vol. 26, Issue 03, Page 26

Published in Print: September 13, 2006, as Cutting Costs
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