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'Concretables' get a thumbs-up

Published January 29, 2007


LECANTO - School officials just don't hold that kind of grudge.

Less than 12 hours earlier, county commissioners had approved an impact fee to build new schools at half the rate that a county consultant had recommended.

Yet mid morning Friday, School Board Chairman Bill Murray showed no hard feelings. He assembled an entourage of county officials to help teach them what the schools have learned about quicker, cheaper and safer school construction methods.

At one point, the school officials joked about the impact fee decision, saying that they needed a better system since they didn't have all the money they needed to build schools.

The school district isn't the only entity needing more space. The county is in the midst of searching for a solution for overcrowding, particularly in the offices of the constitutional officers.

The Friday meeting took place in the shadow of Lecanto High School's ninth-grade center and in the adjacent new addition to the CREST school.

Both new additions, which came online when school opened in August, are constructed of concrete portable modules built by Royal Concrete Concepts Inc. of Palm Beach County.

Approved by the School Board in January 2006, the "concretables" were assembled over eight days at the beginning of summer vacation and were ready for students less than two months later.

Conventional construction could have taken a year or more.

Gathered around photographs of other schools assembled from the Lego-like modules, Murray touted the value of this new construction method to County Commissioner John Thrumston, County Administrator June Fisher and Assistant County Administrator Tom Dick.

As Murray explained how the 40-ton classrooms were built in South Florida and trucked in halves to the Lecanto complex last spring, Fisher gazed up at the two-story high school addition.

"That's a nice building," she said.

"And for $100 a square foot less" than a conventionally constructed school, Thrumston added.

"They claim they can save you 40 percent on the cost of a building," Murray said.

The cost for the two buildings they were examining was $3.1-million.

But as big an element as the cost savings has been, Murray said there were other big advantages as well.

"We needed something quick and we needed something safe for our kids," he said.

The units are solid concrete and reinforcement. They are rated to withstand winds of 185 mph.

"That's a bunker," Murray said.

Dick asked whether the time it took to turn around the project from contract to completion was typical.

Murray said it was and praised the company for its professionalism and its efficiency.

"They would start at daylight and go to dark," he said.

As the group toured the inside of the buildings, examining the seams where units were tied together and scanning the space in the classrooms, Thrumston noted that the same sort of space would work for an office complex.

County officials quizzed Murray and Chuck Dixon, the school district's director of planning and growth management, on the details of customizing the modules, the finishings inside, and whether the units were available on state low-bidding lists.

At one point Thrumston turned to Fisher and said, "We should really take a look at these" as part of the space-needs discussion.

"Absolutely," she said. "This gives the board another option."

Murray also touted the classrooms as being very well-insulated for sound.

He has been a fan of the concretable concept from the first time he saw them. He said that if the school district had not been so far along in planning the new elementary school under construction in Citrus Springs, the district could have saved as much as $9-million.

In the case of the new Renaissance Center built at the Lecanto complex and opened in August, the price could have dropped from the $8.5-million paid to just $5.5-million.

"That's 40 percent," he said. "If you are a county commissioner or a School Board member, you have to look at this."

Murray said he arranged Friday's session just to let the county know that there were other building alternatives that could work as officials seek additional office space for county workers.

Not considering all the options "upsets the taxpayer," he said.

"I'm not just a School Board member. I'm a taxpayer, too."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or

[Last modified January 29, 2007, 06:33:00]

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