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Construction grant bids set to be culled

More than $300 million worth of school construction projects will be the table starting Tuesday, when the state Capital Construction Assistance Board opens a three-day meeting to decide its annual grants.

The event is closely watched in the education community, both by districts whose applications are on the line and by schools thinking of applying in the future.

As has happened every year since the Building Excellent Schools Today program was created in 2008, some applicants will go away disappointed. The program, funded by a share of state school land revenues and restricted in how much debt it can incur, can fund only some of the applications it receives.

This year nearly 40 districts and about a dozen charter schools have submitted a total of more than 60 requests. Those bids total about $308 million in total project costs, including $228 million in state funds and $80 million in promised local matches.

The board’s staff is recommending spending up to $10 million in cash grants and a little more than $80 million for larger projects that are financed with debt.

The applications range from a $27,601 request the from Mountain Valley district in the San Luis Valley for security upgrades to a $37.4 million bid to build a new middle school in Fort Morgan.

Last year the board approved about $280 million worth of projects from a list that totaled about $440 million.

Smaller projects such as roof replacements, new boilers and security upgrades generally receive direct cash grants from the BEST program. Big-ticket projects – new schools and major renovations – are paid for through lease-purchase agreements. State and local funds are pooled to pay off those agreements, known technically as certificates of participation, over several years.

The BEST selection process is unique in that the construction board has a certain amount of discretion in making its recommendations and because it makes its decisions request-by-request in an open meeting, unlike the bureaucrats-in-an-office process that governs many grant programs. Applicants also are allowed to make brief in-person pitches to the board, in addition to the voluminous applications they filed months ago.

BEST applications are evaluated on a complicated set of criteria including building conditions and suitability for educational uses, cost and local financial ability to provide matches, among other factors. In some cases the board can adjust matching formulas.

The board’s decisions won’t be the last word on 2012-13 grants. The State Board of Education – and for the first time this year, the legislative Capital Development Committee – will review the construction board’s recommendations later this summer.

Surviving that selection process is only the first hurdle for successful applicants. Many school districts, especially smaller ones, require voter approval of bond issues to raise their local matches. The board selects alternate applications to be considered for awards in November if any of the finalists fail to pass bond issues.

The big requests

Here are the requests with project costs of $10 million or more:

Fort Morgan – $37.4 million to replace a middle school. State share 6.2 million.

Aurora – $31.5 million to replace Mrachek Middle School, including a $25.8 million state share.

Limon – $25 million to build a new PK-12 school in this eastern plains district. $17.7 million state share.

AXL Academy – $20.9 million to construct a new PK-8 building for this Aurora charter. State share $19.7 million.

South Conejos – $19.7 million to build a new PK-12 school for this San Luis Valley district. State share $14 million.

Moffat – $16.7 million for a replacement PK-12 school in this San Luis Valley district. State share $12.1 million.

Swallows Charter Academy – $15.2 million to construct a new PK-12 charter school in Pueblo. State share $10.5 million.

Creede – $14.5 million for a replacement K-12 school in this San Juan Mountains district, one of the most isolated in the state. State share $6.7 million.

Montrose – $14.2 million for a new middle school. State share $7.1 million.

Animas High School – $13.7 million for a new building for this charter school in Durango. State share $11.4 million.

Ross Montessori Charter – $12.9 million for a new building to house this Carbondale K-8 charter. The school was a 2012 finalist but was pulled off the list late in the year because its financing and land-purchase arrangements weren’t complete.

Edison – $10.8 million to renovate and expand the junior/senior high school in this plains district east of Colorado Springs. State share $10.5 million.

Kim – $10.6 million to renovate and add to the PK-12 school in this district south of La Junta. State share $7.9 million.

Independence Academy – $10 million to build a new K-8 charter school in Grand Junction. State share $8 million.

The construction board convenes the selection process at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Adams 12 Conference Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton.

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