Price Of Building Schools Rising In Nashville

Posted at 9:43 PM, Jan 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-14 13:53:42-05

With more businesses, homes, and apartment buildings being built everyday in Nashville, the price of construction for all buildings is going up, including schools.

In the Metro Nashville School District, the average age of a school is 43-years-old, meaning many schools are in desperate need of being rebuilt or renovated.

When a school is given a budget, they have to put plans together then get bids from contracts.

Due to the demand of construction in Nashville, by the time the bids are submitted, the cost of building can increase so rapidly that it’s no longer in the school’s budget to rebuild.

Tusculum Elementary School is a school that saw that first hand.

Originally built more than 80 years ago in 1935, the school is home to 740 students who deal with problems of an aging infrastructure everyday.

“Things aren’t always beautiful around her, but we have great kids, we have great families, we have amazing teachers, and I feel pretty lucky to be here.” Alison McMahan, Principal at Tusculum Elementary School said.

Students at Tusculum come from all around the world and have diverse backgrounds. Students at the school speak 26 different languages, 60% are English language learners, more than 30% of students are refugees, and 98% receive a free or reduced lunch at school, but they’re all at the school with the same goal: to learn and to try to succeed.

While students attend the school, many of them are not in a traditional classroom. Due to the increase of size of classes, students are forced to take classes in portables outside of the actual school building.

In the last four years, 200 new students have joined the school, and now there is more classroom space in the portables than there is inside of the actual school building.
“This used to be farmland, and now it’s all of the sudden apartment complexes, buildings, homes, a beautiful thriving community, but we don’t have enough places to put the kids.” McMahan explained.

With a lack of space and an aging building, Tusculum was put on a list of schools to be rebuilt 20 years ago.

After receiving approval years later, there was a delay in construction of more than a year, and the money they were originally budgeted for the reconstruction of the school was no longer enough to pay for the rebuild in Nashville, a booming town.

“It’s pretty easy to understand why.” Ken Murdock, Director of Facility, Planning, and Construction for Metro Schools explained. “If you drive around town and look at all the cranes in the air and all the construction, it’s simply a matter of supply and demand.”

In the past 18 months, Murdock said the demand for builds have increased drastically, driving up the prices of construction. “We’ve seen increases in the 10-20% range based on the scope of the project.”

For small projects, that can mean thousands of dollars, but for building a new school, that could mean millions.

“I think part of the large problem is just the size of our district and the number of buildings we have.” Murdock said. “If you were doing it one time, it would be a relatively affordable and doable project, but all of the sudden it becomes a big project.”

With the average age of a Nashville school at 43 years, there will be plenty of projects in the near future, with Tusculum Elementary School being at the top of the list.

“In the meantime, we’ll just keep doing what we do everyday.” McMahan said.

Metro Schools said they plan to get more bids to rebuild Tusculum Elementary in the coming months, and if they get a bid that will work with their budget, they plan to have the school rebuilt by August of next year.

In the long-term, as long as the demand remains high for building in Nashville, it will be more expensive for schools to rebuild and renovate.