Architects Not Shocked at Price of Heritage H.S.

Lynchburg, VA - The big announcement this month that a new Heritage High School could cost $90 million shocked a lot of you. It shocked city council, the school board and parents too. But the number came as no surprise to the architects. A study years ago estimated the price at between $60 and $80 million.

An outside group did the study, called the Dewberry Study, five years ago. It had three options for Heritage - the cheapest was $60 million and the priciest was $80 million. Factor in inflation and architects say, $90 million shouldn't surprise anyone.

For Architect Blair Smith, principal at Dominion Seven Architects in Lynchburg, a $90 million Heritage High School was no shock, neither was the public thinking it would cost a much smaller $60 million.

"People tend to gravitate toward the lowest number. I mean, that's wishful thinking to some degree," said Smith.

The Dewberry Study from 2007 laid out three options for Heritage with three very different prices: One, renovate it for $60 million; two - for $68 million, keep the first and second levels the same and make everything else new; and three - a new Heritage on a new site for about $80 million.

"It's not a surprise to us," said Smith."If you just took the Dewberry, a new high school was $80 million, and just inflated it 4% between now and when they plan on bidding Heritage, you'd be at like $105, $110 million. So, no, it's not really surprising."

At this point, key players won't put a price on Heritage. There are too many balls in the air that could make it higher or lower, says School Board Chair Charlie White.

"The biggest one is their projection for 6% annual percentage increases in construction costs. If you compound that over several years, it makes a big difference in the final cost," said White.

Of course, cost is a concern for everyone, as is quality. Now's just not the time to worry.

"This is going to be a ball that continues to move over and over and over again. So we need to just be patient, and let it work its way out," said Smith.

Heritage is in the preliminary phase. They're still hammering out big decisions, like how many students will be in the school, whether they have to buy new land, and what educational programs the school will have. The hard number crunching comes in 2014 and early 2015 when Heritage goes up for bid.