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What Do Schools Cost?

Jefferson County School Impact Advisory Committee,  Report on Capital Costs,  March 18, 2003




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.  The property taxes, including the excess levy only cover 37% of the operating budget. The remainder of the operating money comes from the state government, 55% and  8% from the federal 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.


Implications of the Local Powers Act


The local powers act dictates the school system develop and maintain a Standard of Service for capital improvements (7-20-6(B).  The Act also dictates that new development shall pay a “proportionate share,”  which is defined as the cost of capital improvements attributed to new developments less any credits (7-2-3(h)).  In order to determine the cost of capital improvements attributed to new development the Act states that the cost of existing capital improvements must be considered (7-20-7(b)(3)). 


Capital Needs. The Committee determined that school capital costs average $9,238 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












Mobile (single-wide)


1.The cost per home is less than the cost per seat because there is less than one student per home on average, at any one time. These numbers have been reduced by credits such as expected state grants for school construction.


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 is $16,446 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.


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 official second month enrollment figure received from the Board of Education for which was 7,276 students. 



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


This represents the existing level of service in Jefferson County.  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 school system has been approved for $6,000,000 from the Economic Development Committee; however, this funding is currently under legal challenge.  Therefore, we have not included this potential expansion of facilities in these calculations at this time.


The costs are based on existing facilities per student enrolled, in order to show the level of service we now provide to existing students. This is the minimum level that is reasonable to charge to developments.  These calculations are the result of dividing the size of the schools by the current enrollment.  The official capacity of the schools is less than the student enrollment.  Therefore, dividing by this smaller number would produce a larger number for the square feet per seat.  In order to be conservative, we rejected this approach of calculating costs per unit of capacity because that  is not the level of service we currently provide.  In addition, 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





118.5 sq ft

108.2 sq ft

125.9 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 existing level of service must be used in the calculation of the 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 7,276 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 $7,907 per acre.


The Committee determined that land for high schools and middle schools should cost, on average, $7,907 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 $15,951 per acre.


The cost shown is the product of $15,951 per acre and .039 acre per enrolled student, or $622 per student.


Note:  The Board of Education is currently negotiating to put a new high school on land valued at $22,800 per acre.  A final agreement on this site would raise the weighted cost per student of land at all grade levels by $194.













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 7276 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.


Note:  The Board of Education is currently negotiating a new high school site with just the grading for fields is valued at approximately $1 million dollars.  This suggests that athletic field grading plus athletic equipment is closer to $4 million dollars for the entire school system. The cost per seat for outdoor equipment number would then rise by $515. 










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 relied on a variety of sources in order to determine the calculations for the children per house number. 


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.  This suggestion was made by Tischler because the purpose of the committee is to project the number of pupils per house for new construction in the next few years.  Houses built in the next few years are going to be more like houses built in the last 20 years than houses built in the more distant past.  


First, the Committee obtained and reviewed Census data.  In order to take a closer look at the Census data, the committee then requested special tabulations from census specific to Jefferson County and homes built in a 20 year period from 1980-2000.


While reviewing the Census data, the Committee found several deficiencies in using the Census data alone to calculate the per house number.  Several of the Committee members were actual Census takers in the year 2000 and shared their experiences of how Census defines a dwelling unit.  Census allows units that are not occupied and could not be legally occupied to be counted as vacant homes.  As long as these dwellings have four walls and a roof, they are counted as homes, even without electricity, septic system, water, or heat.  Many dilapidated as well as units under construction are thus included in their count.  This allowance of dwellings that are not occupied skews the number of children per home downward.  In addition, the Census data, while thorough in other respects, is not current.   The Census data is collected through April 1, 2000, leaving three years of growth and housing units not accounted for in the data. 


Due to these concerns over limitations of the Census data, the Board of Education commissioned Dr. V.J. Brown, Dean of the School of Business and Social Science at Shepherd College to conduct a random digit dialing survey to determine the current number of children per house in Jefferson County.  Dr. Brown worked with his colleague Dr. Horner on this survey, which is in the Appendix.  The Brown/Horner survey produced a .736 number for single family homes.   


Then, in order to further verify the Brown/Horner number, the Committee reviewed information from the West Virginia Educational Information System (WVEIS).  This system shows the addresses of all children enrolled in Jefferson County public schools.    The Committee reviewed this data and compared it with the number of homes identified from tax records in most of the developments built in the last 20 years.   The WVEIS data on single family homes was used to verify the Brown/Horner data and Census data and yielded a .673 children per house. However, since our work with the WVEIS data did not cover all single family developments or any mobile homes, and Brown/Horner and Census did, we used the Brown/Horner and Census data for single family units and mobile homes.


There are very few townhouses, duplexes and apartment buildings in Jefferson County.  Both   Census and Brown/Horner are based on samples and neither had enough sample size for reliable data on these housing types.  The WVEIS approach identified almost all of the apartment  buildings, townhouses, and single story duplexes in the county.  Therefore, we used the WVEIS figures for these housing types for this final report because it was the most thorough data available for the apartments, townhouse, and single story duplex (all of the duplexes identified were single story).  Therefore, if a two story duplex were to be constructed, these numbers would need to be adjusted. 








Single family


single story duplex


mobile homes













The Committee determined that doublewide mobile homes are comparable in size to many single family homes and likely to have the same number of children on average.  Therefore, these housing types are included in the single family home calculations.  However, singlewide  mobile homes (manufactured housing with wheels) are distinct and the Brown/Horner survey shows they have slightly lower children per home.  


The Committee analyzed the special tabulations of Census in two ways.  First, we examined the Census data to project the 2000 Census numbers to 2003 numbers.  We did this by assuming three grades graduated and three years of preschoolers arrived in school.  We also assumed no one moved and no new homes were built.  This method estimated .552 children per home. 


Second, we took the ratio of the last five years of Brown/Horner and the last five years of Census and adjusted all the Census numbers by this ratio in order to provide a current Census figure.  This estimate resulted in .810 children per home.   The Committee believed that it was critical to examine an adjusted Census number because the last three years of the Brown/Horner survey that are not included in the census produced a .93 children per house number.  In addition, the Committee found that the last five years of Brown Horner show many more children than the last five years of Census because more young children have grown up in the older homes as mentioned above and the newer homes more children than the older homes.   This method estimated .81 children per house.  Due to concerns over using projections in the final children per house number, this calculation was used only as supporting data. 


The Committee also 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 Brown/Horner Jefferson County numbers (.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 also 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.  


Although the Committee studied numerous data sources in order to estimate the children per house number and is aware of the limitations of the Census data, we determined that the Special Tabulation Census number and the Brown/Horner survey had the most credibility for Jefferson County at this time. Therefore, in order to determine the final calculation of the Committee’s recommended children per house number, the Committee took an average of the Census special tabulation of .552 and the Brown/Horner number of .736, which yields .644 children per house.   We realize that this is a conservative estimate due to the fact that the Census numbers do not reflect the last three years of growth in the county.  (For example, Brown/Horner projected .93 children per house for the three year period of 2000-2003)  


The Committee strongly recommends reevaluation of the children per house number by a joint committee of the Board of Education and County Commission each year so that this number accurately reflects the growth in Jefferson County.  We suggest jointly funding a survey, much like Brown/Horner so that we can have a current data source each year for Jefferson County.  The Census data will always be at least three years behind. 


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.

Single family


single story duplex


mobile homes








The Committee considered adjusting the costs by the square feet in the housing unit.  Those figures are available in the Appendix.





Net cost after SBA adjustment is shown on the right.


The Committee estimated how much SBA money would be available per year for new construction based on the amount of funding we have received from SBA.  The Committee has assumed that this SBA money will be used to meet the needs for  new houses.  The Committee also estimated the amount of school construction needed per year for new houses and found that the SBA money would be 9% of the total. 

Single family


single story duplex


mobile homes












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 7/1/2004, or each July 1 thereaf­ter, will earn progressively smaller credits.


Single family


single story duplex


mobile homes








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

Single family


single story duplex


mobile homes









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.








Alan Sturm, Chair — 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.


Eric Lewis, Vice-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.



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.



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.