Challenging material and labor markets forced Frederick County Public Schools to put an additional $1.6 million toward major renovations on Thurmont Elementary School, which are set to begin in June.
The renovation will increase the building’s capacity by more than 100 students, replace its roof and HVAC system and upgrade its plumbing.
The project’s price tag was originally quoted at $9.7 million. With a transfer approved by the Frederick County Board of Education earlier this week, the new budget is more than $11.2 million.
“With a lot of shortages in construction materials and competitive labor markets, those costs have really skyrocketed,” Brad Staiger, a senior project manager with the district, told board members at their Wednesday work session. “While it is over budget, it is in line with current market conditions.”
School districts across Maryland have seen project costs jump by 20 to 25 percent due to the same conditions, Staiger said.
Under the current timeline, construction is set to take place over this summer break and the next one, with work being completed in time for the start of the school year in 2023.
In their report to the school board, FCPS capital program staff wrote that they’d coordinate with other schools in the Catoctin High School feeder to make “contingency plans” in case delays pushed the calendar back.
That could mean Thurmont Elementary students would be divided among other buildings in the area for a portion of the 2023-2024 school year until construction wrapped up.
“While we do not anticipate schedule delays, FCPS will communicate proactively with the community if there is any need to adjust school operations for the start of the school year,” Chief Operating Officer Paul Lebo wrote in an email.
Thurmont Elementary, which serves students in third through fifth grade, first opened in 1955. FCPS funded additions and major renovations to the building in 1959 and 1976, but since then, its facility condition rating has fallen to the “critical” category.
In 2020, FCPS sent engineers to Thurmont, Wolfsville, Lewistown and Emmitsburg elementaries, trying to determine which of the aging buildings was the best candidate for renovations. None of the northern Frederick County schools struggled with capacity, but all needed upgrades.
Construction crews will do away with Thurmont Elementary’s open-concept design. Many teaching spaces in the school don’t have interior doors separating them from the hallways or other classrooms. Engineers noted in a 2020 report that this “presents acoustical, security and circulation challenges,” and the layout means classrooms in the interior of the building don’t receive any natural light.
FCPS estimates the project will keep Thurmont Elementary viable for another 30 years.
Though the school’s current state-rated capacity is 368, just 303 students were enrolled as of Dec. 30, 2021. After this round of updates, which will increase classroom space, the school will be equipped to house 483 students.
“The kids have done wonders with what they have now,” board member Jason Johnson said, “so I’m hoping for benefits for them moving forward.”