The price to construct a new Medford high school at Columbus and Cunningham avenues will not exceed $68 million, the Medford School District announced Tuesday.

The guaranteed maximum price to build South Medford High School brings the overall budget for the project to $80.6 million, down from $82 million, despite the escalating costs of fuel and materials.

"Itís a major milestone in the process to get the guaranteed maximum price," said school board Chairman Eric Dziura. "Obviously, this is the most expensive of all of the projects (paid for by a $189 million bond issue in 2006). The fact that the budget is down gives us more flexibility on the other projects. This is really good news."

Construction of the 255,000-square-foot high school by Hogan & Associates Construction is set to begin in the next two weeks and wrap up in fall 2010.

The campus, one of three high schools in the 12,000-student school district, will replace the 77-year-old South Medford building at South Oakdale Avenue near downtown.

The construction price includes building a track, tennis courts and softball, baseball and football fields. The athletic amenities were bid out separately from the main campus in case costs came in more than the budget of $82 million.

"Iím glad it came within our budget," said Mark Button, Medford schools facilities director. "Weíve been working toward this goal for months with the architects, project manager and contractor."

The school board hasnít yet decided how to allocate the $1.4 million expected to be left over from the South project.

But the extra funds could decrease the risk of running out of money to build replacement schools for Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools, Dziura said. Officials had suggested there might not be enough money to build gymnasiums at Jackson and Roosevelt.

"On one hand, fuel prices are much higher; on the other hand the construction market is not what it was a year ago," said Kim Wallan, mother of a South student. "It looks like they threaded the needle."

The new high school will have seven more classrooms than the 78 at the existing campus and double the acreage, from 21 to 42 acres. The new campus, however, will have a 400-seat black box theater instead of an auditorium, which seats more than double that. It will also have one less gymnasium, two instead of three.

The auditorium, stadium and gyms at the existing school will continue to be used after the new campus is built. How the rest of the campus will be used has not yet been decided.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or