It doesn’t take a math expert to see that these numbers don’t add up.
Two new schools in New York and Jersey City are similar in almost every way – except in price.
In the Bronx, a 46,000-square-foot extension to the PS 33 that will add 388 seats is said to cost $ 70 million. In Jersey City, a new 53,000-square-foot school that will serve 480 students reportedly costs just $ 12.5 million.
The Big Apple will cost more than $ 1,500 per square foot to build – a price that would be too high for a “crazy private hospital” let alone a school, an industry source told the Post.
The Garden State bill is less than $ 250 per square foot.
“We had a very nice building completed for a very good price,” Bret Schundler, an advisor to the Jersey school board, told the Post. The school is privately owned, but its construction was financed through tax-exempt bonds.
Like the Bronx School, the building on Grand Street was built with prevailing local wages and union workers, added Schundler, former Jersey City mayor and former state education officer.
The New York City School Construction Authority was spun off from the city’s Department of Education in 1988 to help build new schools more efficiently. The agency works with “five-year plans” which specify what is to be built.
However, a 2019 report by the Citizens Budget Commission found that the way the School Construction Authority builds schools was “expensive” and “slow,” using a different metric: dollars per seat created were issued.
The Good Government Group found that the average cost per new seat increased from $ 79,000 to $ 117,000 between 2005-2009 and 2015-2019. The current five-year 2020-2024 plan calls for about $ 121,000 per new seat, according to CBC.
The $ 70 million addition to the Bronx’s PS 33 costs more than $ 180,000 per new seat.
By comparison, the Jersey City school costs about $ 26,000 per seat.
“Working with the city is very difficult,” said Stephen Smith, co-founder of a real estate technology company that marked first the dramatic cost difference on Twitter, The Post said. “The pool of contractors and sellers is not as large as in private construction.”
Both projects were tendered competitively – but the city refused to say how many offers had been received. Both projects included the cost of land, site preparation, and equipment, including computers and furniture.
“High construction costs are a problem at all levels of government in New York,” continued Smith. “And there doesn’t seem to be any interest on the part of politicians to understand these high costs.”
When presented with the cost of the Bronx school, a property official who refused to be named said $ 1,500 per square foot was outrageous – and that the cost of a school could “only be that high” if an agency was behind it it.
New York has some of the highest public building costs in the world, in part due to the “prevailing wage” where any party volunteering for public works has to match union wages and benefits.
For example, a union carpenter in New York City is paid $ 101.88 an hour in wages and benefits, according to the city’s auditor. In Hudson County, New Jersey, which includes Jersey City, the number is $ 82.01, according to the State Department of Labor. A worker in New York City costs $ 92.13 and $ 59.95 in Hudson. New York Labor Code often requires additional job titles on a website, such as “Oiler”.
But the official said the prevailing wage would only be about 30 percent of the school’s expensive premium in the Bronx.
Another reason NYC prices are sky high: corruption. A federal jury in October found a guilty verdict against SCA contractor Naviillus Construction for embezzling more than $ 1 million from union welfare funds, according to the Justice Department and reports.
The SCA plans to build eight new schools by 2021 – many of which won’t cost much less than the Bronx example.
A 63,000 square foot extension to the PS 97 in the Bronx will reportedly cost $ 57 million – just over $ 900 per square foot. A 50,000-square-foot extension to the PS 97 in Brooklyn will cost $ 70 million, or $ 1,400 per square foot.
An SCA representative, Kevin Ortiz, said in a statement, “Building schools in NYC, one of the most densely populated areas in the country, poses challenges that include additional site 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 to our students’ success while maintaining the highest standards of quality and safety to reach.”