Putting the $170M John Gray project in context

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It’s difficult to compare building costs in the Cayman Islands to other regions, particularly for a specialised facility such as the new John Gray High School.

However, it is clear from available data that CI$170 million is a massive expenditure for high school construction, both in terms of total cost and on a per-student basis.

The new John Gray would rank among the most expensive public high schools ever built in the US. The total budget is more than double the amount of the most expensive Florida public high school, which can accommodate more than double the amount of students as John Gray.

On a per-student basis, the costs of John Gray (and Clifton Hunter High School) are multiple times greater than the cost of building high schools in even the most expensive urban centres in the US, including San Francisco and New York City.

Total cost

The new John Gray project would rank among the most expensive high schools ever built in the US, according to this list from Public School Review.

For the purposes of comparing Cayman projects to US projects, we have converted Cayman Islands dollars to US dollars at the rate of US$1.20 = CI$1.

  1. US$578 million, Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, Los Angeles, Calif., > 4,000 students
  2. US$377 million, Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, Los Angeles, Calif., 2,500 students
  3. US$232 million, Central No. 9 Visual and Performing Arts High School, Los Angeles, Calif., 1,200 students
  4. US$204 million, new John Gray High School, Cayman, 1,440 students (including 220 CIFEC students)
  5. US$197.5 million, Newton North High School, Massachusetts, 1,865 students
  6. US$185 million, New Brunswick High School, New Jersey, 1,300 students

(For a Canadian perspective, the most expensive high school project in British Columbia is the US$82 million Westminster Secondary School to accommodate 2,100 students.)

The US$204 million John Gray will easily be the most expensive education construction project in Cayman’s history.

  1. US$204 million, new John Gray High School, 1,420 students
  2. US$132 million, Clifton Hunter High School, 800 students
  3. US$122.4 million, Cayman International School, 1,100 students

The first phases of the private CIS campus cost US$62.4 million and brought enrolment up to 630 students. The ongoing US$60 million expansion project will bring the capacity of CIS up to 1,100 students.

CIS is being built by the Dart Group as a project of the Kenneth B. Dart Foundation, with the buildings on a long-term lease to CIS.

For context, over the past 15 years there has been only one public high school built in Florida that exceeded US$100 million. Here are the most expensive Florida high school construction projects:

  1. US$103.6 million, Riverview High School, Sarasota, 2,966 students (2010)
  2. US$94.4 million, University High School, Volusia, 2,878 students (2010)
  3. US$89.9 million, Charlotte High School, Charlotte, 1,828 students (2011)
  4. US$86.7 million, Tohopekaliga High School, Osceola, 3,087 students (2018)
  5. US$83.8 million, West Broward High School, Broward, 3,050 students (2008)

Per-student cost

On a per-student basis, the costs of the three Cayman school projects are far greater than the average cost of high school construction in any major city in the US. That includes dense urban centres with high costs of living, such as San Francisco and New York City, as well as Honolulu on the island of Oahu in the Pacific Ocean.

In Florida, the per-student cost of public high school construction is made public by the state’s Department of Education and currently stands at US$31,142 per student.

Using Miami as a benchmark, the Current estimated the per-student cost of construction in other major US cities, based on their costs per square foot compared to US$259 per square foot in Miami.

Despite strict building code requirements for hurricanes (the standards on which Cayman’s regulations are based), Miami ranks among the least expensive cities for high school construction.

The most expensive are Los Angeles (US$54,000 per student), Honolulu (US$58,000), New York City (US$61,000) and San Francisco (US$66,000).

In comparison, the per-student cost of the CIS project is US$111,273.

The per-student cost of the new John Gray project (including CIFEC students) is US$143,662. That’s nearly 30 percent greater than the CIS project, more than double the cost of construction in San Francisco and more than four times the cost in Miami.

However, the per-student cost of Clifton Hunter is even more than that of the new John Gray, standing at US$165,000.

(Editor’s Note: In addition to the US, we searched for recent high school construction projects in British Overseas Territories, such as Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands, but were not able to identify comparable projects near the scale of John Gray or Clifton Hunter.)

Numbers subject to change

It is important to note that the cost of the new John Gray is subject to change. Of the CI$170 million, about CI$63 million has already been spent (on construction before 2012, and for the new gym, completed in 2017).

About CI$76 million is under contract (for ‘Project A’, completion of the new John Gray), and could change in case of design changes, budget overruns or, possibly, savings realised during construction.

The remaining budget, about CI$30 million, has not been contracted out (for ‘Projects B and C’, refurbishment of existing John Gray, relocation of CIFEC, demolition of existing CIFEC campus and provision of playing fields for new John Gray).

$160 million price tag for new John Gray High school

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