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23 BEST bids advance

Nearly two dozen applications for cash grants have been “short listed” by state Capital Construction Assistance Board, meeting this week to weigh applications for 2011-12 grants from the Building Excellent Schools Today program.

The board started work Monday and on Tuesday morning finished its initial review of applications for cash grants, which generally are used for smaller projects like roof repairs, new boilers and upgraded alarm systems.

Later in the day, the board began review of lease-purchase applications, which are made for new schools, large additions and other high-cost projects.

The board received 42 applications for cash grants totaling about $44 million in overall project costs.

Both cash and lease-purchase projects are funded with a combination of state and local money. Applicants receive full cash grants upon final approval. For lease-purchase projects, state and local money is pooled to pay back over several years the investors who provide construction funds.

The board’s cash short list includes 23 projects totaling about $20 million, including $12.3 million in state funds. The board won’t make a final decision until after it’s completed review of all applications for both cash and lease-purchase projects. The board’s ultimate recommendations go to the State Board of Education, which makes the final decision on grants.

Among the larger projects on the short list are $2.7 million for renovation at the Paradox Valley Charter School, $2.6 million for various projects in the Holyoke schools, $2.4 million for roof projects in the Commerce City schools and $1.8 million for a new roof at the Byers school. (The totals include both state and local funds.)

About half a dozen other large projects weren’t put on the short list for cash grants but will be considered for lease-purchase awards.

The projects in this year’s list of applications have a total cost of $553.6 million, with $372 million requested in state aid and $181.5 million promised in local matching funds. In addition to deciding to allocate about $12 million as the state’s share of cash grants, the board Monday set a ceiling of about $180 million in state funds for lease-purchase grants.

“Unfortunately, our choices are constrained by one thing – revenue,” board chair Mary Wickersham said, reminded applicants that many projects, no matter how worthy, won’t get funded.

Grants judged on multiple factors

The board makes grants based on a complicated set of factors, including building condition, suitability for educational use and a variety of financial factors. By law, projects involving health and safety get top priority.

The first two days of the board’s meeting, held at the PPA Events Center in west Denver, drew a crowd of about 70, including superintendents, other administrators, architects, contractors and others.

“It’s a high-stakes process,’ said one board member, noting that most districts and charters have no other alternatives for construction financing.

For the first time since the BEST program started, the board this year allowed applicants to give brief presentations and respond to board questions. Applicants seemed to have prepared carefully since most had no trouble staying within the two-minute time limit.

Discussion of each application was accompanied by a slide show of construction plans and current building conditions, showing a depressing succession of leaky roofs, cracked foundations, water-stained ceilings, patched pipes, moldy modular classrooms and other structural problems.

See this recent article for more details on 2011-12 applications and on the BEST program.