Two years ago, Timothy Cahill, Massachusetts treasurer and head of the state’s School Building Authority, looked on with alarm as the costs of building and renovating K-12 facilities climbed to record levels. The “poster child” for the accelerated spending, he said at the time, was the Newton North High School project.

It began modestly with plans for a $40 million renovation of an existing facility. But after the building’s condition was examined in depth and found wanting, officials decided a new Newton North was needed; the cost was estimated at $141 million. Voters approved funding in 2007, but by the next year the project costs had swollen to $197 million—$46 million of it coming from the School Building Authority.

The sticker shock prompted Cahill to initiate a cost-containment effort called the Model Schools Program. Instead of letting school systems design new facilities from scratch, the program provides incentives to districts that replicate the designs of recently built schools in the state.

The benefits of re-using existing designs, the authority says, are that school systems can take advantage of proven design solutions that perpetuate cost efficiency and best practices. Adopting a prototype enables districts to save money by compressing the designing and bidding schedule, and reducing the occurrence of change orders.

As Newton North’s $197 million building opened in September, construction continued on what will be the first high school to take part in the Model Schools Program. Norwood High School, a $68 million project, is being built using a design from Whitman-Hanson Regional High School in Whitman, Mass. It is scheduled to open in 2011.

  • Read the main story, "The $578 Million School," to learn how the 20-year effort to build a school complex in Los Angeles came with such a hefty price tag.