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Impending school construction project funds in Pennsylvania pipeline
-- Megan Harris and Matthew Santoni, TribLIVE

Pennsylvania: July 31, 2014 -- Legislators let a two-year moratorium blocking state funding for new school construction projects expire last month, expanding a financing process that is overcommitted by $1.7 billion statewide. The state's 11-step approval pipeline contains 340 building projects, of which about 200 remain bottlenecked at the last step before the state pays school districts, said Tim Eller, spokesman for the Department of Education. Even as the process was opened to new applications, Eller said the budget for payouts increased to $306 million, a bump of about $10 million in the fiscal year. Given the extensive backlog and a modest increase in the state budget, districts locked in are not optimistic that they'll see cash soon. “We're not holding our breath waiting,” said Brett Lago, business manager at Penn-Trafford School District. “It's so backlogged, we're not going to count on receiving any money.” Ryan Manzer, business manager for Freeport Area School District, said his district is on the hook for a $35 million middle school. Two other projects bank on PlanCon reimbursement, having entered the process long ago, he said. “We planned to not receive that reimbursement in next year's budget,” Manzer said. “Until we get notification that money's available, we're not going to count it.” PlanCon, the Education Department's acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, stopped taking applications when legislators stalled them in October 2012. Applications submitted before that date progressed slowly but hit a logjam because requests for money outstripped available funding.


Nearly all area school construction awarded to local companies
-- DEREK BROUWER, Billings Gazette

Montana: July 29, 2014 -- This summer is a sprint for area schools to complete millions in building upgrades and repairs during the next few weeks. And those projects are also keeping Billings-area contractors busy, as School District 2 officials have made a point of having the work done by local firms. Of the nearly 80 bids awarded this summer, all but one have gone to a local contractor, SD2 bond manager Lew Anderson told the school board recently. “Our target, when we were out talking to people about this bond, we promised them we would try to get 80 percent local participation,” he said, referring to the $122 million measure approved by voters last year. “We want to deliver on our promise. That’s really important to us,” Anderson said. More than $36 million of the bond money is earmarked for deferred maintenance. Around $8 million should be spent this summer, in addition to the major renovations underway at Broadwater and McKinley schools. Projects include basic but sometimes extensive upgrades to keep students and staff “safe, warm and dry,” from new gym flooring at Highland to window and roofing upgrades at Castle Rock Middle School. The district budgeted roughly $1 million in upgrades this summer for each of Meadowlark, Miles and Central Heights schools. Will James Middle School is getting a $950,000 partial reroof (Empire Roofing) and $330,000 in new windows (Fisher Construction). The district is also finishing up the last batch of projects from a pair of federal bonds approved by voters in 2012, which target primarily energy efficiency upgrades. By law, the contracts are awarded to the company that offers the lowest responsible bid. But with more projects that the district can do at once, Anderson said he’s been able to shuffle around the timing of some bids so local companies are able to participate.


More Schools Open Their Doors to the Whole Community
-- Caroline Porter, Wall Street Journal

National: July 28, 2014 -- WYOMING, Mich.—On a recent weekday here, a steady stream of people dropped by one central location for food stamps, family counseling and job ideas—their local school. While instruction has ended for the summer, these classrooms remain open as part of a wider trend around the country of "community schools," where public and private groups bring services closer to students and residents year round and, in some cases, help boost student performance. With backing at local, state and federal levels, the decades-old idea for improving schools and neighborhoods is gaining ground despite some funding uncertainties and doubts about community schools' success. The largest coordinator of such programs, Communities in Schools, saw a 6% increase in its reach in the 2012-13 school year, covering schools with a total of more than 1.3 million students in 26 states. Dan Cardinali, president of the nonprofit group, which focuses on students, said its goal was to maintain the quality of its services at the same time that it reaches a bigger and bigger audience. Skeptics of the programs contend the case isn't strong enough yet to justify a significant increase in resources. "A lot more pilots and research are needed before we should replicate this on a massive scale," said Jason Bedrick, an education-policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Still, the idea is gaining momentum. Last Wednesday, a bipartisan federal bill that authorizes more money for community schools was introduced on the House floor. Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, announced a grant of $52 million to set up 40 community schools in the city, dubbing it "one of the cornerstones of our education agenda." Last year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, expanded a program that places state Department of Human Services workers inside schools to 169 sites now from 124 at the start of the 2012-13 school year. Here in Kent County, a southwest region of Michigan that includes Grand Rapids, the number of community schools has grown to 28 this year from eight in 2006.


Museum recognizes Alabama, new high school for safe rooms
-- Jill Nolin, American School & University

National: July 28, 2014 -- An exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. is highlighting the only state in the union – Alabama – that requires tornado safe rooms in new schools. Designing for Disaster, which runs through Aug. 2, allows visitors to take a close look at how policies, plans and designs can help communities withstand natural disasters. An Alabama school, Park Crossing High School in Montgomery, is featured in a portion of the exhibit that is focused on state building codes. Park Crossing, which opened last fall, incorporated seven safe rooms into its multi-building, 165,390-square foot campus, with the areas of refuge integrated into classrooms and music/band rehearsal spaces. Instead of building one large safe room, multiple safe rooms were distributed throughout the school so students and staff would have a shelter in close proximity. The safe rooms span two stories and are enclosed by rebar-reinforced concrete walls designed to meet the state standards that took effect in 2010, according to the design firm, Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood (GMC). Steel shutters, which also function as bulletin boards, are located within the classrooms to keep debris and broken glass from flying inside when locked. The shelters have the capacity to protect 1,200 people from 250-mile-per-hour winds.


Amid coal uncertainty, Wyoming school construction funds projected to waver
-- LEAH TODD, Casper Star Tribune Communications

Wyoming: July 27, 2014 -- When a company wants to dig for coal in Wyoming, it pays a one-time competitive fee to help its bid stand out from what is usually a crowd of companies vying for the right to mine. Over the past 10 years, those fees – called coal lease bonuses – have paid for more than $1 billion in school construction around the state. But if the industry continues its current trend, that money will dry up in 2018. Back-to-back unsuccessful bids on coal-rich lands resulted in no new coal leases in Wyoming in 2013. As a result, the state’s latest fiscal profile shows coal lease bonus revenue dwindling to zero by 2018. That has Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, concerned. “As it stands today, it doesn’t look good,” Landen said. Landen chairs the state Legislature’s Select Committee on School Facilities. Without significant coal leases in the near future, Wyoming must change the way it pays for new schools and school renovations, he said. Lawmakers say they will resolve the situation. Many point to school funding as a high priority, and several said enough savings likely exist to fund some school improvements until a long-term strategy can be developed.

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