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$237 million in BEST projects make the cut

Nearly a dozen school renovation and construction projects totaling $237.7 million were recommended Wednesday by the state School Capital Construction Assistance Board.

The decisions came after two and a half days of difficult meetings during which the board wrestled with competing priorities, the unavoidable fact that most applications wouldn’t get funded and with some public confusion about how the board makes its decisions.

School under construction

The State Board of Education has the final say on grants from the Build Excellent Schools Today program. The board is expected to consider the recommendations at its meeting on Aug. 11-12.

The construction board’s recommendations were the second major round of grants since passage of the BEST law in 2008. Grants awarded last year totaled about half of the latest package, although a substantial portion of last year’s package wasn’t used because some local matching funds fell through.

Voters in several school districts also will have an influence on which projects ultimately are funded. In most cases BEST grants require local matching money, and districts are expected to ask voters to approve bond issues this November to raise local matching funds.

If some of those bond issues fail, those projects will be out of the running. Anticipating that problem, the CCAB Wednesday designated one additional project as a “runner-up” that won’t be funded unless one or more of the others fall off the list.

Voters statewide also may have an influence on the BEST projects, which are funded by lease-purchase agreements called certificates of participation, or COPs in government lingo. Amendment 61 on the November ballot would ban use of COPs.

“All bets are off if Amendment 61 passes,” said Dave Van Sant, a retired superintendent who serves on the construction board.

Here are the projects recommended by the board, culled from the 47 that applied:

Center District 26 JT – $31.5 million for replacement of several buildings. State share is $26.7 million and the local match is $4.7 million. (Bond vote required this November.) District enrollment is about 600 students.

Elbert District 200 – $19.6 million for a PK-12 replacement school. State share $16.1 million; local match $3.5 million. (Bond vote required this November.) Enrollment is about 240 students.

Fremont District RE-2 – $13.1 million for an elementary school renovation and addition. State share $8.3 million; local match is $4.7 million.

Holly District RE-3 – $28.5 million for a new PK-12 school. State share $25 million; local match $3.5 million. (Bond vote required this November.) Enrollment 290 students.

Lake George Charter School (Park County) – $7.4 million for a new P-6 school. $6.5 million state share; $970,000 local match in hand. Enrollment is about 85 students.

Mapleton Public Schools – $53.7 million for major construction and renovation of the district’s Skyline Campus. State share about $33 million; local match about $21 million, which will require a bond issue in November. Enrollment 5,800 students. (The Mapleton proposal has a difficult history and sparked intense board discussion; see below for details.)

Monte Vista Schools – $32.1 million for elementary school renovations and high school replacement. State share $27.6 million; $4.5 million match already raised. Enrollment 1,200 students.

North Routt Charter School – $3.9 million for an addition to its K-8 campus. $3,1 million state grant; about $696,000 local match. Enrollment is about 70 students. (The school, which uses a Mongolian yurt for one of its buildings, won a BEST award last year but couldn’t use it because the state ruled it didn’t have a properly funded match. That problem has been fixed.)

Peyton School District 23 JT – $5.6 million for a junior high addition to the high school. State share $3 million; local match $2.6 million.

Salida District R-32 – $30.4 million for a new high school. State share $12.5 million; local match $17.9 million, with a bond vote this fall. The district has about 1,100 students.

Vista Charter School (Montrose) – $6.1 replacement for a 6-8 alternative school. State share $4.6 million; local match of $1.5 million is in hand. Enrollment 190 students.

The runner-up on the list is a $24.1 million P-12 building to replace three schools in the 380-student Akron R-1 School District. The rub for the district is that it will have to try to sell voters on a bond issue to raise the $7.7 million local match without being able to say the $16.3 million state share is a sure thing. The district hasn’t passed a bond issue since 1964.

(Enrollment data taken from Department of Education 2009 statistics.)

Mapleton Public Schools
Mapleton Public Schools Skyline campus

Like North Routt, Mapleton received a BEST award last year but couldn’t use the money because voters defeated a $30 million bond issue by only a few votes.

Mapleton’s latest application proposed only a $10.7 million local match, about half the $21 million required by the state’s formula for matching. Construction board members weren’t comfortable with that and rejected Mapleton’s waiver letter, thereby requiring the full match.

Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio, who attended all three days of the board’s hearings, wasn’t happy with the board’s decision, telling Education News Colorado “It puts us at a disadvantage” when seeking another bond issue this November. “We will go back and try again,” she said.

Ciancio said the district believes that the state’s matching calculations aren’t accurate in Mapleton’s case.

The Division of Public School Capital Construction Assistance calculates required matches based on a district’s assessed value per pupil relative to the state average; median household income relative to the state average; bond redemption fund mill levy relative to the statewide average; the percentage of pupils eligible for free and/or reduced-cost lunch; and bond election effort and success over the last 10 years.

Districts can request waivers from the match formula, and the board has discretion to grant or reject those.

After having given it a preliminary OK Tuesday, the board Wednesday dropped an $18.7 million new-school request from the Rocky Mountain Deaf Charter School in Jefferson County, which serves about 40 students from several districts. The board was concerned that the request was for a new building that could serve four times as many students.

Other proposals that never made the cut included applications from Denver, Aurora, the Odyssey Charter School in DPS, Sheridan, Westminster, Otis, Pueblo County, the Pikes Peak BOCES, Falcon, Florence, the Ross Montessori School in Carbondale, the Eagle County Charter, the West End District at Nucla.

The total lease-purchase package recommended by the board is $165.5 million state money and $66.8 million in local matches. An additional $5 million in state money will be held in reserve to pay federal prevailing wages where required by federal law.

The BEST program is funded by revenues from state school lands and some Lottery funds. The program so far has awarded nearly $311.4 million to 69 projects in 57 districts, which have provided $98.6 million in matching funds. Advisors to the program estimate about $342 million will be available for lease-purchase grants in 2011-12 and 2012-13. After that most of the annual BEST revenue will have to be used for paying previous projects.

The board also approved spending of about $11.3 million of state money in 35 cash grants to school districts for smaller projects such as fire alarm upgrades, new heating and air conditioning systems and roof repairs. That package includes an additional $8.5 million in local matches. (See CDE list of all cash projects.)

There were 102 applicants for cash and lease-purchase projects.

This story was corrected on July 1 to include additional information.

Division of Public School Capital Construction Assistance

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