Cost Comparison Study of Public School Construction Projects

Arlington Public School

OCMI’s Cost Comparison Study can help school districts make better – more informed – decisions on current and future project costs.

Public School Systems across the country are constantly tackling challenges with managing and balancing their construction budgets. Arlington Public Schools (APS) is one of the nation’s premier public school systems in the country, its schools routinely ranking among the nation’s best. In 2017, APS contracted with OCMI to investigate their recently completed and upcoming new construction projects and compare both hard and soft costs to those of neighboring school districts. As part of our analysis, OCMI compared the school construction project cost data of 30 schools, including line-by-line division cost data for 13 schools.

Through OCMI’s investigation, we discovered that such a request is not as simple as it seems. Particular challenges – restrictive site constraints, lack of available undeveloped or developed land, and stringent community engagement processes, to name a few – all can influence the overall cost of a project. “In comparing cost data, we found that several unique factors, like site constraints arising from a dense urban setting and a longer-than-average community engagement process, tend to drive up costs for Arlington schools over the life of a project,” said Tom Strandberg, Vice President, OCMI. “Although other school divisions we analyzed don’t confront these challenges at all or to the same degree, we still found that APS’ most recent construction costs are relatively on par with any of those in the region.”

In addition to APS’s current construction cost controls and measures, OCMI’s report offers suggestions for APS to explore various ways of improving the management of its project costs, from budgeting and planning stages through design and construction. “We commissioned this study to gain a better understanding of our school construction project costs compared to other school divisions, as we continue to expand to meet our growing student enrollment,” said Reid Goldstein, Chair, Arlington School Board. “The report offers a guide to help APS manage resources and maximize efficiencies in future projects while continuing to meet the educational needs and expectations of our students and the community.”

During this analysis, OCMI also prepared a Market Study to help inform the analysis and recommendations in the Cost Study report. That was provided to the School Board in June 2018 in advance of the release of the Cost Study.

In the end, through a comprehensive analysis of school district construction costs, OCMI prepared a study that presented data, both macro and micro perspective, to help the school district make better, more informed decisions regarding the current and future costs of their construction projects.

To view the full OCMI Cost Study Report and Market Study, or for additional information, please visit