How Much Is This Gonna Cost?
With budgets stretched thin and the value of a dollar ever in flux, it should come as no surprise that the question, “How much is this gonna cost?” is one we hear a lot. Whether a school is privately or publicly funded, its leaders, obviously, want to be good stewards of the dollars under their fiduciary care. And while cost is never the only concern or priority our clients have, it’s always at or near the top. We get this.
One of the benefits of working with SHP is that we have deep experience with—and a proven track record of—accurately budgeting for the cost of projects. We’re not the kind of firm that’s comfortable with back-of-the-napkin math or educated guesses. When it comes to our calculations, we prefer precision.
So, when we’re asked, “How much is this gonna cost?” how do we respond? Well, with questions of our own.
Look Forward, Not Back
You see, it’s easy to estimate projects by converting square footage or student population into an estimate. Or by comparing the project it to a similar one recently completed—something that’s easy for us to do, given the breadth and depth of projects we’ve completed. But these approaches are historical; they look back, not forward. And they miss what matters most: your project and its budget are unique unto themselves.
Each project involves different leaders and different communities with their own goals and a different future point in time. For example, your community’s priorities may call for, say, a larger gymnasium or grander theater compared to another school. Or your particular situation may call for more STEM-enabled classrooms than another school, even one right down the road.
The lists goes on, of course, but the point remains: costs and priorities are inextricably linked. And priorities differ from community to community, school to school, situation to situation.
This why we ask lots of questions—of you, your fellow leaders and even your community—about what your future holds. We have a proprietary process that helps lead you and your various stakeholders to a common vision, one that everyone can rally behind. The four pillars of the process are:
- Education: educational purpose, vision and future flexibility
- Facilities: current and future conditions, capacity, flexibility, site soil, utility and traffic considerations, and energy and maintenance costs
- Finance: initial, life cycle and operational costs and the financial implications of various finance options
- Community: users, operators, taxpayers, and financial supporters, business, government and civic organizations, parents and others within the community the institution serves
The goal of the process is to build consensus around an educationally appropriate, financially responsible and community-supported facility master plan. This sort of alignment allows us to create a clear and well-defined scope of work and, with that, a highly detailed budget based not on what we think to be true, but what we know to be true.
Right-Sizing Your Budget
Where costs need to be shaved, we’ll provide some options so you can make the best decision for your school. The aim in these situations is not to cut costs just for the sake of cutting costs; that’s easy, but can lead to results you’ll come to regret. Reducing costs appropriately requires awareness of what is gained and lost by your choices… and what your community values.
We won’t let you overspend, but we’ll also alert you to potential underspending. We have a variety of processes and system checks—as well as some advanced modeling tools—that shed light on why a particular budget may need to be more robust if it is to truly meet your stated needs and vision.
For instance, we recently worked with a university to help them appreciate that their budget was meaningfully inadequate to achieve their goals. This wasn’t just our opinion. We had the data to make the budget/vision mismatch quite clear. In this case, they opted to stick with their original vision and found the extra funds required.
“How much is this gonna cost?” Our honest, initial answer is: “It all depends.” We realize that this doesn’t feel so satisfying, but we promise you this: After we get some answers to our questions—some high-level, some very nitty-gritty¾we’ll tell you exactly what it’s gonna cost. And that you can take to the bank.
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