- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 6, 2004

The new T.C. Williams High School, scheduled for construction next month, is expected to cost $92 million, the most expensive in the history of the Alexandria public school system.

“People are starting to worry,” said Frank Putzu, president of the Seminary Hill Association, a local civic organization. “When you start talking about $90 million, that’s a lot of money. Nobody really understands why this is so expensive or what they’re doing that is costing so much.”

The high school is for students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades. Most area ninth-graders attend the Minnie Howard School.

Mr. Putzu said renovations at Minnie Howard have been delayed to help pay for the increasing cost of the new high school, which some people call “T.C. Green.”

“I don’t think we have a clear idea yet just how much this is really going to cost,” Mr. Putzu said. “That’s what’s causing the uneasiness. [The cost] started at $81 million, it creeped up to $87 million, and now it’s at $92 million. These projects never come in at cost.”

Moseley Architects designed the new school at a cost estimated to be about 1.5 percent more than a conventional school building.

The average cost of construction per square foot is $199.57, more than $50 higher than the average construction costs for Virginia high schools built in the past seven years, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

“We know of [no other schools] in that league,” said Charles Pyle, the department’s director of communications.

Supporters of the project acknowledge an environmentally friendly school is expensive, but say the energy-efficient equipment and other features will reduce the cost of everyday operations.

David Peabody, a member of Alexandrians for a Green T.C. group, said the higher price will be repaid in three years because the cost of operating the new school will be less.

He said budget analysts estimate that the operating costs for the new school will be $200,000 to $300,000 less a year.

School officials say the new high school is much needed and that contractors have assured them the project will be completed on time and not over budget.

Even “places like Harvard have a constant renewing of buildings, and you reach a point when a school has been stretched to more students than it should have,” said Kenneth Foran of the Alexandria School Board.

The existing school is of a 1950s design, “and its life expectancy has expired,” he said.

The school will be built on the existing school’s football field, and construction is scheduled to begin Dec. 4. Student athletes will play at other schools while the new school is built.

The existing school was built in 1965 and named after a former superintendent, who had been in charge of Alexandria schools for 30 years.

T.C. Williams has 1,953 students. More than 650 students were born in foreign countries, and more than 850 are eligible for free or reduced lunches because they come from low-income families, said Principal John Porter.

Recycled building materials, energy-efficient lighting and a system that converts rainwater into water for toilets and irrigation are among the environmentally friendly features.

Margee Walsh, executive director of secondary programs for Alexandria City Public Schools, said the project is scheduled for completion in March 2007 and will be ready for the new school year that starts in September that year.

The building is expected to look like most other new schools, but will have ceramic tile instead of paint in the hallway. Some of the building materials also will be nontoxic and nonallergenic, and the building will have an advanced air-filtration system.

After construction is complete and 2007-08 classes begin, the old school building will be demolished, and a parking deck will be built, Ms. Walsh said.

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