It doesn’t take a math whiz to see these numbers don’t add up.
Two new schools in New York and Jersey City are alike in almost every way — except price.
In the Bronx, a 46,000-square-foot expansion of PS 33, which will add 388 seats, costs a reported $70 million. In Jersey City, a new 53,000-square-foot school that will serve 480 students, BelovED Charter High School,just $12.5 million.
The Big Apple construction bill is more than $1,500 per square foot — a price that would be too high for a “crazy-fancy private hospital,” let alone a school, one industry source told The Post.
The tab in the Garden State comes to less than $250 per square foot.
“We had a very nice building done at a very nice rate,” a consultant to the Jersey school’s board, Bret Schundler, told The Post. The school is privately run, but its construction was financed through tax-exempt bonds.
Like the Bronx school, the building on Grand Street was constructed with prevailing local wages and union labor, Schundler, the former mayor of Jersey City and former state education commissioner, added.
New York City’s School Construction Authority was spun out of the city Department of Education in 1988 to more efficiently build new schools. The authority operates through “five-year plans” laying out what is to be built.
by the Citizens Budget Commission found that School Construction Authority’s way of building schools was “expensive” and “slow,” using a different metric: dollars spent per new seat created.
The good-government group found that the average cost per new seat rose from $79,000 to $117,000 between the 2005-2009 and 2015-2019. The current 2020-2024 five-year plan budgets about $121,000 per new seat, according to the CBC.
The $70 million annex for the Bronx’s PS 33 costs more than $180,000 per new seat.
By comparison, the Jersey City school will cost about $26,000 per seat.
“The city is very difficult to work with,” said Stephen Smith, co-founder of a real-estate tech company, whothe dramatic cost differential on Twitter, told The Post. “The pool of contractors and vendors is not as large as in private construction.”
Both projects were competitively bid — though the city refused to say how many bids were received. Both projects included the cost of land, site prep, and outfitting, which includes things like computers and furniture.
“High cost in construction is a problem at every level of government in New York,” Smith went on. “And there seems to no interest from politicians in understanding these high costs.”
When presented with the Bronx school’s cost, one real-estate official, who declined to be named, said $1,500 per square foot was outrageous — and that the “only way” costs could run that high for a school is if a public authority was behind it.
New York has some of the, in part due to the “prevailing wage” — under which any party bidding on public work must match union wages and benefits.
For instance, a union carpenter in New York City must be paid $101.88 in wages and benefits per hour,. In Hudson County, N.J., which encompasses Jersey City, the figure is $82.01, . A laborer in New York City costs $92.13 and $59.95 in Hudson. New York work rules often require additional job titles on a site, such as “oiler.”
But the official said prevailing wage would only account for about 30 percent of the Bronx’s school’s pricey premium.
Another reason NYC prices are sky-high: corruption. A federal jury in October returned a guilty verdict against SCA contractor Navillus Construction, over embezzlement of more than $1 million from union benefits funds,and .
The SCA is planning to build eight new schools starting in 2021 — with many costing not much less than the Bronx example.
A 63,000-square-foot addition to PS 97 in the Bronx will reportedly cost $57 million — just over $900 per square foot. A 50,000-square-foot addition to PS 97 in Brooklyn will cost $70 million, or $1400 per square foot.
An SCA rep, Kevin Ortiz, said in a statement: “Building schools in NYC, one of the most densely-populated areas of the country, bring challenges that include added site acquisition and environmental remediation costs. We are committed to building and expanding schools to reduce overcrowding, increase diversity, and provide the infrastructure to support educational programs that are critical for the success of our students while achieving the highest standards in quality and safety.”
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