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What Do Schools Cost?

Jefferson County School Impact Advisory Committee

Initial Report on Capital Costs

October 11, 2002

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The school system needs money for building and expanding schools to serve a growing county. We will need new schools as the county continues to grow.


Existing Property Taxes. School construction is not covered by property taxes that new homes pay, since those taxes do not actually cover the cost of operating the schools. Additional operating money comes from the state government. The large cost of building new schools must be found elsewhere.


“Impact Fees” and “Proffers.” Some nearby counties in Maryland and Virginia use “impact fees” or negotiated contracts (“proffers”) to pay for the schools required by growth. These fees only apply to new housing construction, not existing homes.

Impact fees are charged as a one time charge by counties on new residential construction, to cover the cost of providing schools for new residents.  The County Commission is studying impact fees which could cover some or all of these costs. They operate under a part of West Virginia law known as the Local Powers Act.

Proffers are negotiated contracts between governments and developers of new housing to either pay fees toward the cost of schools or to actually build schools. The City of Charles Town has negotiated proffers (contracts) with large developers to cover these costs. The City of Ranson has a similar approach.

There are legal protections to prevent double-charging anyone.


Level Services for New and Old Residents. The Local Powers Act requires that the fees charged on new construction be appropriate for the same services now being provided by the school system. The cost shown will let Jefferson County give the same services to new students that it gives to its current students.


Capital Needs. The Committee determined that school capital costs average $11,581 for new single family housing construction. Townhouses and apartments, being smaller and with fewer children on average, will, of course, cost less, and figures are provided below.

Summary of School Capital Costs


Total Construction Cost of Permanent School Space, per Seat



Other Costs (including land, administration and maintenance space, equipment, etc.)







Averages by Housing Type1


Type of Housing Unit

Average Cost per Unit2


Single Family Home








1. Since there is less than one student per home on average, at any one time, and adjusted for future capital payments from the home

2. Costs may vary along with the size of units, up to a limit.


The calculations are fully shown in the report and appendices. Basically they involve looking at what the county has now in our schools, per student. Then the report shows the cost of buying or building similar facilities today.



The School Impact Advisory Committee was formed by the Jefferson County Board of Education (JCBOE) in July, 2002. The purpose of the Committee is to estimate school costs resulting from residential growth that are not covered by existing taxes.  This Committee is providing these costs of capital construction so that the county commission, municipalities and developers can utilize this data to calculate fees related to development.  It is neither the function nor the intent of the Committee to oppose or favor growth in Jefferson County.


There are several ways to pay some or all of the school costs resulting from residential growth. The county commission can charge “impact fees” to developers of new housing.  Municipalities can negotiate contracts which require payments from developers within the municipalities (“proffers”). There are also alternative ways to pay some or all of these costs. These alternative sources are addressed near the end of this report.


The Committee met weekly since it was formed. Members obtained information from the School Building Authority (SBA), Jefferson County, Loudoun County, Frederick County, and Berkeley County, with respect to construction costs of school buildings, costs of equipment, costs of land, costs of site preparation, square foot per student standards and actuals, average dwelling square footage, and public school students per dwelling. The Committee examined and discussed the data in detail, and calculated appropriate cost figures. Figures, such as enrollment, will be updated when more current data are available.


The capital cost of new school space, as of October 2002 is $16,477 per seat. This figure is based on the amount of space in the current school system, per student. This capital cost includes the cost of land acquisition, site preparation, building construction, and equipment.


Impact fees are to be determined by the county commission and are subject to the Local Powers Act as approved by the State Legislature. Proffers are determined by binding agreements between the municipalities and developers and are not subject to the Local Powers Act. 


The county commission may calculate and enact an “impact fee” subject to the West Virginia Local Powers Act of 1990 (Article 7-20, West Virginia Code). Municipalities may calculate and agree to “proffers” paid by developers building within the municipalities.  Proffer agreements are entered into voluntarily and are not subject to the Local Powers Act. The Local Powers Act stipulates that developers will receive a credit against their impact fees for any other payments they make toward capital improvement costs (7-20-3h).  The Local Powers Act requires that “availability of other sources of revenue” “shall be considered” by counties considering an impact fee.  This is not required under the proffer agreements signed so far between the City of Charles Town and developers.


Future reports will provide information on operating costs that municipalities need, in addition to capital costs, in managing their proffer agreements. Future reports will also address administrative requirements that are specific to the county’s needs under the Local Powers Act, such as the inclusion of appropriate schools in the Capital Improvements Program.


The Committee welcomes all comments (jharner@jeffschools.net, J Harner, Bd of Education, Box 987, Charles Town WV 25414).  Such comments will assist in producing future reports and revising these reports as additional data are collected.


The following is a detailed analysis of each data point used in the calculation of the capital costs, the calculation itself and a discussion of potential additional revenue sources.



Capital Costs for Impact Fees and Proffers


The Committee identified the following components of capital costs. We tried to make these calculations standard for both Proffers, charged by municipalities, and Impact Fees, charged by the county.  In all instances, the calculations utilize the enrollment figure received from the Board of Education for September 27, 2002, which was 7,259 students.  This figure can easily be adjusted to adjust the entire set of calculations accordingly.




The current square feet of school buildings per student enrolled are shown on the right.


This represents the current level of service in Jefferson County. While it may be insufficient because there are portable classrooms and crowding in certain schools, the Local Powers Act does not seem to envision charging new developments for more permanent and portable space per student than current students have. (Municipalities have more flexibility under the proffer system.) The figures include gross square feet per student of each school building, including existing space at each school for boil­ers, school administration, food service, etc. The figures exclude portable classrooms and central administration space, listed separately below. A list is attached. Enrollment changes daily, but not to a large degree.


The costs are based on existing facilities per student enrolled, in order to show the standard we now provide to existing students. This is the minimum standard that is reasonable to charge to developments. We rejected calculations of costs per unit of capacity because that is not the standard we currently provide, and because there are too many plausible measures of capacity limits in schools. For example, one could attempt to measure the capacities of cafeterias, sports, classrooms, halls, etc.


High school





117.5 sq ft

108.7 sq ft

126.9 sq ft


Estimated school construction costs per square foot are shown on the right.


The Committee used estimates from the School Building Authority of WV for all grade levels. The Committee considered costs in building 13 schools from 1997-2001, collected from an experienced school engineering and architecture firm (including the new Jefferson County 9th Grade Complex).  The Committee also considered data obtained from Berkeley County Schools for the two elementary schools they recently constructed (figures attached). The Committee decided not to use the figures from prior years because SBA figures, which are based on actual school costs across WV, show 39%-48% total cost increases from 1997-2000, although, according to Dr. Clacy Williams, Executive Director of the SBA, little or no cost increases have been experienced since then.  On the other hand, Dr. Williams indicated that the SBA figures often run below actual costs; for example, he suggests that a more realistic high school cost is $135 - $137 per square foot rather than the $128 figure provided on the SBA web site. Experience in Frederick County Maryland, where costs have also escalated rapidly and now run in the $140 - $150 per square foot range, confirms these increases. (see letter from Jeff Bresee in public record) The official SBA numbers, unadjusted for inflation since 9/2000, are the best figures we have for the present. Figures attached. These figures need to be revised whenever the SBA issues new figures.


This figure excludes land and instructional materials, but includes all construction costs from building site preparation to furniture. 


High school




$128/sq ft

$130/sq ft

$114/sq ft




Current square feet of portable classrooms per student enrolled is shown on the right.


The Committee does not believe that portable classrooms should be used for future capacity.  However, as the Local Powers Act dictates that the current level of service must be maintained and cannot be increased through use of an impact fee, we determined that portable classroom space should be included in the total square footage of education space, but broken out for analysis purposes.  Portable classrooms were also broken out because of the difference in cost of a square foot of portable classrooms vs. one square foot of traditional school construction.  The Committee feels that this difference could present a material change in the cost of construction and should therefore be accounted for separately.


The County currently utilizes 34 portable classrooms with an average square footage of 704 (23,952 total square feet).  23,952 total square feet of portable classrooms divided by 7,259 current enrollment yields 3.3 square feet per student enrolled. 







3.3 sq ft


The estimated purchase and installation cost per square foot of portable classrooms is shown on the right.


This figure is based on Jefferson County insurance estimates in September 2002. The total insurance value of portable classrooms in the County is $1,190,000.  There are 34 portable classrooms with 23,952 total square feet of space.  This yields a cost per square foot of $50.





$50/sq ft





Current square feet of administration & maintenance buildings per student enrolled are shown on the right.


This includes the School Board Office, Bus Garage, and Maintenance Building. This space needs to increase with increased enrollment, but less than proportionately. Most central staff will not need to be dupli­cated, though there are compensating items, like the Alternative School and construction management, that will increase more than proportionately. The figures exclude a 6,000 square foot rented storage building, on the grounds that it is not a capital item.


The Committee estimates that office and shop space will increase at 75% of the existing space per student, for each additional student.  The Committee has therefore used 75% of the current square feet per student enrolled when calculating the cost of this space per student.






Maintenance, Office

Maintenance, Shop





2.3 sq ft

0.2 sq ft

1.4 sq ft


Estimated administration & maintenance construction costs per square foot are shown on the right.


These figures were estimated by Committee members.



Maintenance, Office

Maintenance, Shop


$100/sq ft

$100/sq ft

$50/sq ft










The cost of land per seat is shown on the right.


The Jefferson County Board of Education currently has 281.36 acres of land at its various school sites.  This total yields a ratio of .039 acres (approximately 1/26th of an acre) per student enrolled.


Generally elementary schools are built in high-density growth areas and secondary schools are built farther from high-density growth areas so that they can conveniently be reached from a larger geographic area. Most current schools are in or near densely populated areas, including all the middle schools.


The Committee reviewed published prices of land sold or for sale in Jefferson County in 2001 and 2002. Excluding parcels under 15 acres and over 100 acres, the average price was $6,599 per acre.  Numerous sales contracts that Committee members were aware of did not show up in these published figures because the contracts have not yet closed, especially in residential growth areas. Most of the properties included in the $6,599 average are in rural areas. Therefore the Committee will depend on the appraisal of land at Huntfield for a reasonable cost per acre in high-density growth areas, since the professional appraiser has expertise and comparables to determine a fair value ($22,500 per acre). The cost for the land for the new 9th grade school was $7,546 per acre.


The Committee determined that land for high schools and middle schools should cost, on average, $7,546 per acre and land for elementary schools should cost, on average, $22,500 per acre. The average of the costs of the three school types, weighted by acreage, is $15,789 per acre.


The cost shown is the product of $15,789 per acre and .039 acre per enrolled student, or $616 per student.













Cost of other indoor equipment per seat is shown on the right.


This figure is based on costs just spent at the 9th grade complex, with no inflation factor applied ($433,719 for 600 students). This includes computers, lab equipment, and an initial basic library collection. The cost excludes heating, wiring, desks and chairs that are included in the construction cost per square foot. It also excludes textbooks and consumable supplies that will come from the operating budget. The Committee believes this will not vary significantly by grade level.












Cost of outdoor facilities per seat is shown on the right.


This figure is based on an estimated $1,250,000 in the current school system ($1,250,000 divided by 7259 students is $172). For example this includes tracks at Charles Town Middle and Jefferson High, bleachers and press box at Jefferson High, crowning of playing fields, playground equipment, and landscaping. The pricing is not done in detail, and may change.










This figure is the sum of the cost of traditional school construction per seat, portable classrooms per seat, administration & maintenance construction per seat, land per seat, outdoor facilities per seat and other equipment per seat.










The number of K-12 students per housing unit is shown on the right.


The Committee reviewed data on seats per house from Loudoun County, Virginia, and Frederick and Charles County, Maryland (figures attached).  The Committee agreed that the current rate of children per house in major subdivisions in Loudoun County reflects our best estimate of what Jefferson County can expect in the next few years. The Committee did not use the Charles County and Frederick County figures because the officials from both counties are not satisfied with their data. We averaged the 1999 figures from eastern and west­ern Loudoun County, since they differed little, and either could apply to us. Details are attached, along with the similar figures from the cost analysis for the City of Charles Town submitted by Greenvest, a developer currently working in Charles Town. Figures from 2002 would be appropriate when they become available from Loudoun later this year.  


There is often a time lag from when homes are built to when the children from those homes arrive in school. Many families move when they form a family, or when they need more space for another child. It will then be 5 years until that child goes to Kindergarten. Loudoun has been growing rapidly for longer than Jefferson, so their developments have been built long enough for families to move in, have children and for the children to grow to school age. Since we do not have data on Jefferson County patterns of the future, the best substitute is to use Loudoun numbers from the present or recent past in order to determine what impact Jefferson County growth will have on school needs not just over the next year or two but over a much longer period of time.


The County Commission’s consultant, Paul Tischler and Associates, recommended that it was appropriate to look at the average number of students per house during the first 20 years after houses are built, in order to estimate the amount of school space that would need to be built to serve new houses in the future. The Committee obtained data from the American Housing Survey for the Washington DC Area in 1998, a survey done by the US Census Bureau. The results are very close to the Loudoun County numbers given on the right (.76, .43 and .23 respectively). This analysis covered homes in the outer suburban fringe of the DC area (counties of Calvert, Charles and Frederick Md; Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania, and Stafford, VA). The analysis included homes built from 1980-1998, and children from age 5 to three quarters of the 18-year-olds (since the Committee estimated that about three quarters of Jefferson High School students reach their 18th birthday before they graduate).


The Committee plans to conduct a survey of Jefferson County in the next two months to measure any differences in Jefferson County.





1 family














The school capital cost per housing unit is shown on the right.


These figures are calculated by multiplying the number of students per house times the grand total capital cost per seat.

1 family







The sizes of housing units are shown on the right, in square feet. 


One option is to base impact fees on the size of houses, since the Local Powers Act specifically mentions higher fees for buildings based on “an increase in gross floor area or in the number of dwelling units” (7-20-3(g)). The average unit sizes shown are estimates for new homes in Jefferson County with building permits approved in 2002. No building permits have been issued for multifamily units in 2002, so that figure is a national average from the Census Bureau for apartments completed in 2000. The Committee expected that over the next 5-20 years Jefferson is most likely to have the students per unit now seen in Loudoun, and the unit sizes now seen in Jefferson. Figures are attached.



1 family











When the Committee completes its survey of Jefferson County, mentioned above, it will identify how the number of children is related to the size of houses. The cost of school construction needed is expected to be lower for smaller houses than for larger ones.






The credit for taxes to be paid is shown on the right.


Owners of existing houses pay taxes through 2009 for the school bond approved in 1989 which was used to build T.A. Lowery Elementary School and make renovations to existing schools. Houses being built now and in the future will also pay taxes for the 1989 bond. These taxes are in fact payments for capital needs of the school system.  As mentioned above, the Local Powers Act requires that impact fees be adjusted to reflect future capital payments like these. Figures are attached. Homes completed after 7/1/2003, or each July 1 thereaf­ter, will earn progressively smaller credits. The credit can be built into any fee per unit or fee per square foot, depending which is adopted





1 family











The cost per housing unit, net of bond credits, is shown on the right



1 family













Impact fees under the Local Powers Act may or may not cover all of the costs shown above. The Local Powers Act permits using other sources “where other funding exists” (7-20-6(b)). The Local Powers Act says “availability of other sources” “shall be considered” (7-20-7(b)(2)). Under “proffer” agreements with municipalities, payments by developers are not contingent on and do not require other sources of funding.


In general, potential sources of funding include:


·       Impact fees, to the extent approved by the Jefferson County Commission

·       Proffers, to the extent negotiated by municipalities

·       Grants, to the extent approved by state agencies, including the School Building Authority of West Virginia (SBA) and the Economic Development Authority.

·       Bonds, to the extent they are approved by Jefferson County voters

·       Other sources that could include grants and donations from the Federal government and private sources.






After obtaining data from various sources on a variety of data points, the Committee has determined that the above analysis is an accurate depiction of the capital costs of new students, houses and square feet.  Additional data may be collected that can be used to improve these figures.  Comments from the public are welcome as this cost analysis should be an ever-evolving process.








Eric Lewis, Chair —Mr. Lewis is a lifelong resident of Jefferson County and a product of Jefferson County schools and Shepherd College. He has two children, a 5 and 6 year old, and resides near Shepherdstown. He is the cofounder of Butterfly.net, Inc. and Ultraprise Corporation and currently works for Walker Ventures, a venture capital firm with $100 million under management and offices in Glenwood, MD and Shepherdstown, WV. He is on the Board of Directors of the Jefferson County Economic Development Authority and the West Virginia Venture Connection. Mr. Lewis is also a CPA and has audited the Jefferson, Berkeley and Pendleton County Boards of Education. Mr. Lewis has  3 family members in the real estate industry and is the son of a general contractor.  He believes in reasonable impact fees and volunteered for the Committee in order to assure that accurate information and calculations were utilized.


Terry Marcus — Mr. Marcus is a lifelong resident of Jefferson County and resides in Charles Town. Although his children are out of school, his wife has been a teacher and coach in the county for 20 plus years. Mr. Marcus is a builder and developer and believes in impact fees. He is also the past president of Eastern Panhandle homebuilder association.  Mr. Marcus is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Jefferson County Economic Development Authority.  He has joined the committee to make sure that the school numbers are fair and accurate.


Scott Hoeksema — Mr. Hoeksema has lived in Middleway for the past four years. Mr. Hoeksema moved to Jefferson County from Leesburg and his children went through school in Loudoun County. He has lived through the rapid growth in Loudoun and California and wants to help us to avoid the pitfalls he experienced. He has two children and  both children currently attend WVU. All of his neighbors have children in the Jefferson County School System and he wants to help. Mr. Hoeksema is ex military and currently works in the high tech aerospace industry in Loudon.


Paul Burke — Mr. Burke is currently retired but started as a teacher. He resides near Moler’s Crossroads. He worked for 25 years at the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Economic Affairs. He has also been a consultant to the United Nations Development Program and the US Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment. Mr. Burke is concerned about the effect of growth and development on the schools and sees a need for impact fees. He would like to see the operating budget spent on schools and not temporary classrooms. Mr. Burke joined the committee to help develop a defensible, accurate number for the impact on the schools.


Jim Surkamp — Mr. Surkamp has lived near Shepherdstown for the past 18 years. He has worked for 18 years in New York for consulting firms. He wants to help by getting difficult information and putting it into an understandable report. Mr. Surkamp was also a census taker for Jefferson County in the 2000 census. He is an historian with a regular television program on regional cable. He also teaches regularly for the Eastern Management Development Center of the Office of Personnel Management in Shepherdstown.


Fred WellsMr. Wells has an MBA and a PhD in economics.  He has testified numerous times in electric, natural gas, telephone and postal rate cases. He was the postmaster for Shepherdstown before retiring.  As a volunteer for Meals on Wheels, he is keenly aware of the impact that tax increases can have on the elderly and disabled..


George Ganak — Mr. Ganak resides in Kabletown and is a member of the Local School Improvement Councils at Charles Town Middle School and Jefferson High School (where he chairs the Council). Mr. Ganak was also a member of the Millennium Committee that worked to develop a 10-year plan for Jefferson County Schools in 1998. He works as an information technology manager for the Department of the Navy and has a master’s degree in project management. He is the father of two children who have gone through Jefferson County Public Schools, one of whom is now at Shepherd and the other is at Jefferson High School. He is interested in impact fees and improving facilities in this county.


Alan Sturm — Mr. Sturm is a retired assistant superintendent of schools from Upshur County, West Virginia. He has a vast amount of experience in all aspects of school administration. Mr. Sturm is a resident of Heatherfield and wants to help to improve our school system.


Tim Pownell — Mr. Pownell is originally from Moorefield, West Virginia and is a graduate of Marshall University and holds a masters of business administration degree from Frostburg State University in Maryland.  He moved here to join Jefferson Security Bank and has since held positions at One Valley Bank/BB&T and is currently a loan originator with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.  He resides in Shepherdstown and is married to a lifelong resident of Jefferson County.  He has a one year old son and is very interested in helping to improve the school system in Jefferson County.


Jeff Bresee Mr. Bresee, serving as a consultant to the School Impact Committee, has lived in Jefferson County for the past ten years.  He is a law school graduate and member of the Maryland Bar.  He retired from Frederick County (Md) Public Schools in July of 2002.  He has more that 30 years experience in school facilities planning and construction, including property acquisition, master planning, the public bidding process, and capital improvements programming.  He is interested in helping  Jefferson County adequately deal with the growth which has already begun and is sure to continue.


Click to download calculations & tables in excel format