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BEST board approves $127.4 million

The state Public School Capital Construction Assistance Board has recommended $127.4 million in lease-purchase financing and cash grants in the first large round of funding under the Build Excellent Schools Today program.

Projects receiving funding a swimming pool building in Deer Trail, an historic school in Silverton where the heat doesn’t work, the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs, a school with large propane tanks next to the playground, a new PRE-12 campus in Fairplay, a Cedaredge elementary school that’s bisected by a street and a Routt County charter school that now uses a yurt.

The most successful large districts in getting projects approved were Mapleton and Westminster, while Douglas County, Buena Vista and Salida didn’t fare so well.

Mapleton had the largest single project approved, a $53.1 million renovation of its Skyview campus, which would include $31.3 million in state BEST funds and $21.7 million in local funds, for which the district hopes to winner voter approval in November. The district lost a bond election last fall. The Park County project in Fairplay was the second largest at $30.1 million state and local.

The largest project not funded as a proposed $44.8 million plan of renovations and new high school construction in Monte Vista.

In general, money for large projects is used to pay off multi-year lease-purchase agreements. Smaller projects get direct cash grants. Applicants are expected to provide local matches, but state law provides various formulas for different kinds of matches and allows the board to waive matches in some instances. (The total above does not include local matches.)

The board recommended funding 51 of the 91 applications submitted. In a few cases, applicants didn’t receive the full amounts.

Five charter school applications were accepted; five others get no funding.

A system used to rank projects gives priority to health and safety needs, and the board funded all projects that had received such a ranking. Projects that didn’t have a strong health and safety element made up the bulk of those that didn’t get funded.

The board’s recommendations now go to the State Board of Education, which will make the final decision on grants at its August meeting. Lease-purchase funds won’t be available until next year, after the state treasurer completes financing arrangements.

Applications for the next big round of grants are expected to open next January and be considered by the construction board in June 2010. That round will be the first after completion of a statewide assessment and ranking of the needs of all school buildings in the state.

Modifications to the original BEST law allowed the construction board to make grants before the assessment was done. But, several members said repeatedly that it was difficult to make awards without knowing where projects might ultimately rank on the statewide list. Some applications considered this week didn’t make it because the board wants to see where they ranked on the assessment.

The board has made some smaller grants, but the ones recommended during two days of meetings Wednesday and Thursday were the first large group since the BEST program went into effect last year.

The BEST program is funded by a portion of revenues from state lands and not by general tax revenues. Several of the projects recommended this week are expected to use special federal stimulus bonds, which have no interest costs for the state.

Most interesting awards

Deer Trail: $247,000 in state cash and a $165,000 local match will be used to renovate the unsafe wing of the school that contains a swimming pool used by students and community members for miles around. Some board members were skeptical, but the panel still approved the money. The main school building is expected to be recommended for replacement in a future round of grants.

Silverton: $9.5 million in state funds and a $2.4 million local match will fund a lease-purchase plan to renovate the historic school that serves about 60 students. The building’s furnace failed last winter, forcing the use of space heaters. The town is isolated, particularly in winter, leaving no other options for the town children.

Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind: The historic campus will get a $10.6 million makeover. (There’s no match because the school is a state agency and can’t raise funds on its own, as a school district can.)

Woodlin: $88,593 in state cash and $37,968 in local money will be used two 8,000 gallon propane tanks away from the school playground.

Cedaredge: A lease-purchase deal funded with $8.7 million from the state and a $2.6 million local match will fund major renovations at the elementary school, including unification of the campus on one side of the street that now runs through it.

North Routt Charter: This 63-student PRE-8 charter will be able to replace its yurt (a Mongolian-style tent) thanks to a lease-purchase funded with $3.1 million in state funds and $1.6 million in local money.

Winners and also rans

Mapleton scored big with approval of three projects totaling nearly $54 million in state and local funds

Two roof repair projects in Westminster total about $2 million from state and local money.

Large proposals from Buena Vista and Salida weren’t funded.

Douglas County submitted five proposals and was granted only one, for about $4.5 million in upgrades to the high school in Castle Rock. The district lost a big bond issue last year and is considering another attempt this fall. The district is challenged by growth and crowding, not as high a priority for the board as health and safety.

The Park County project in Fairplay got $30.1 million, split evenly between the state and the district.

The Alta Vista charter school in Prowers County got $6.1 million for a lease-purchase, almost all from the state. The Twin Peaks Academy in Boulder got nothing for a similar-sized project.
The rejected Monte Vista plan would have cost $44.8 million.

List of applicants, proposal details and program rules (514-page PDF)

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