The Cost of Castaic High School

| News | June 15, 2017

Steve Sturgeon has wanted a high school in Castaic since 1999. It’s coming closer and closer to reality, as grading is complete and construction has started.

“It’s going to be a great high school,” said Sturgeon, a member of the William S. Hart Union High School District board.

But at what cost? Estimates run in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but the possibility remains that it will not put the Hart District in the red.

“We won’t be over. We won’t be dipping into the (district’s) general fund,” Hart School Board President Joe Messina said.

Still, it’s not yet clear exactly how much the project will cost. What is clear is the following:


The school is being built by Castaic High School Construction, Inc., owned by Larry Rasmussen of Spirit Holding, Inc., at a cost of $126.2 million, Hart District spokesperson Dave Caldwell said. The district awarded the contract in October. The money covers all the construction of the physical buildings and the landscaping.

“That is the guaranteed max contract, no more, no less,” Caldwell said.

The grading of the site was completed beforehand at an estimated cost of $43 million, Sturgeon said. There are costs associated with permits, architect fees, and various county and state costs that could total as much as $35 million.

Sturgeon said the district has set aside as much as $3 million in the general fund for furnishing the buildings with desks, chairs, etc., as well as library books and cleaning/mowing costs. (This differs from Messina’s claim about not dipping into the fund, in that the $3 million has been set aside for a specific purpose; Messina referred to having to spend money not allocated for the project.)

Assuming the above estimated costs are correct, that means it will cost about $203 million. But that doesn’t take into account any unforeseen costs along the way. For example, the state Department of Education typically changes its rules regarding school design annually, and should major changes occur, it might cause changes in the building plans. Also, construction costs rise annually at a rate of about 5 percent, Messina estimated, although Caldwell said the construction contract is set, which should mitigate that.

The funds for building the school came courtesy of Measure SA that the voters approved in 2008. That measure provided $300 million in bonds for various school construction and upgrades, and Caldwell said in an email that the district is using the remaining estimated $95 million for the performing arts centers at Canyon and Saugus high schools, a two-story addition and infrastructure upgrade at Hart, and classroom additions at Placerita and Sierra Vista junior highs, among others.

The reality, Messina and Sturgeon said, is that the various district-wide projects could push the total budget to more than $300 million, but if that happens, the district can tap into state matching funds made available by Proposition 51 that the voters approved in November. Messina said as much as $61 million is available.

Another thing to consider: The scope of the Castaic High School project has changed over the years. Messina said the original idea was to use the same plans for West Ranch and Golden Valley high schools and build a third identical school in Castaic.

“If we used the original plans, it would have cost $180 million,” Messina said.

But over time, different people wanted to include different things in the school. For example, Messina wanted (and got) what he calls flex-tech buildings, in which different technologies could be taught from one year to the next. Solar power could give way to wind turbines without having to change the physical structure of the buildings.

Someone else wanted (and got) a performing arts center, and suddenly the land chosen for the school (Romero Canyon) wasn’t big enough. Fortunately, Messina said, the developer found a piece of land that was in foreclosure. Now, there was enough room.

The first class is scheduled to enroll for the fall 2019 semester.


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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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