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Court ruling jeopardizes school building deals: Lease-leaseback decision throws school construction contracts into flux
-- Austin Walsh , The Daily Journal

California: August 27, 2015 -- Millions of dollars spent by local school districts could hang in the balance, under a ruling Wednesday by the California Supreme Court, which influences a controversial but common method of constructing school buildings. California Supreme Court justices elected not to review a decision by an appellate court which found the Fresno Unified School District violated competitive bidding and conflict of interest laws when it entered into a lease-leaseback agreement with a contractor to build school facilities. Lease-leaseback agreements, which do not require districts to employ the traditional public bidding process before awarding construction contracts, have been used frequently by school districts throughout San Mateo County. Under such agreements, after a builder is chosen, districts will typically rent their property to a contractor for a small amount of money and then lease it back again later for an amount equivalent to the previously agreed upon construction cost. Critics have said the agreements open the door for backroom dealings between representatives from school districts and construction companies, while some school officials consider the agreements efficient fashions of selecting qualified contractors to build projects, which are often specialized or complex. Attorney Kevin Carlin, who represented the plaintiff in the Fresno case, said in an email Wednesday the state Supreme Court’s decision is a victory for taxpayers concerned about public money being spent in a transparent fashion. “Today’s Supreme Court decision in Davis v. Fresno Unified School District accomplishes two very important things that promote good governance and protect school districts and taxpayers,” he said. “First, it prohibits school district consultants from being awarded construction contracts for projects they have consulted on. And second, it requires competitive bidding for any lease-leaseback arrangement that is not a genuine lease or does not include bona fide contractor financing.” Carlin said lease-leasebacks agreements granted the opportunity for bias between school officials and contractors, because the process is closed, and not subject to being broadly bid.

These Are The Schools That Hurricane Katrina Destroyed
-- Rebecca Klein, The Huffington Post

Louisiana: August 26, 2015 -- When Hurricane Katrina came roaring through New Orleans in August 2005, it took nearly 2,000 lives, displaced more than a million people along the Gulf Coast from their homes, and caused significant damage to 110 of the city's 126 public schools -- some of which were never replaced. Ten years later, most public schools in New Orleans look quite different, both physically and in terms of how they operate, than they did the day Katrina hit. In the wake of the storm schools in the city were essentially rebuilt from the ground up, with the state-run Recovery School District taking over most and making them charters or closing them. It appears as though student achievement in the city has risen as a result of these measures. In January 2006, Mary Filardo, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based 21st Century School Fund -- a nonprofit group that promotes upgrades to school facilities -- traveled to New Orleans to document the damage done to some schools. Filardo was accompanied by Emel Alexander, the organization's graduate student intern at the time and is now the president and CEO of Baton Rouge-based nonprofit, Urban Restoration Corps. Filardo and Alexander took photographs of the schools they visited, which Hurricane Katrina had all but destroyed.

$562M slated for school construction in Orange County
-- Rachel Williams, Orlando Business Journal

Florida: August 26, 2015 -- Overcrowded K-12 schools have led to a $562 million plan that includes renovating and building new schools in Orange County. Of the 16 school facilities that will be built from the ground up, nine are entirely brand new schools. The other seven entail demolishing an existing, outdated school and rebuilding an upgraded facility. Orange County Public Schools has planned 19 projects in total, with the remaining three involving comprehensive renovations, where the facility will remain but the interior will be upgraded. The most expensive project, at $97.8 million, is a brand new high school in the west Orange County area that will hold a capacity of nearly 3,000 students. More information on these projects can be found on Orange County Public Schools' website.

Why So Many Schools in Connecticut Probably Have Toxic PCBs – But Aren’t Being Tested

Connecticut: August 25, 2015 -- For nearly three decades across the U.S., toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were widely used in school construction and renovation work. A WNPR investigation has found that two-thirds of schools in Connecticut could be contaminated. Despite a 1979 ban on PCBs -- a synthetic chemical -- and their classification as a known human carcinogen by the World Health Organization, there’s no state or federal law that requires testing for the presence of PCBs in schools. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that much like asbestos, undisturbed PCBs don’t pose a health risk. But a growing body of research disputes that position. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that PCBs can pose a long-term inhalation risk for workers, and a more serious risk in the case of a fire. About 66 percent of public schools in the state were built or renovated between 1950 and 1979, when PCBs were commonly used. The chemicals are likely to be in adhesive or caulk inside the walls, or sealing the windows -- in fireproofing, flooring, or paint. The EPA recommends testing to be sure.

New Jersey sells $2.2 billion in bonds for school construction
-- Staff Writer, Reuters

New Jersey: August 25, 2015 -- The New Jersey Economic Development Authority on Tuesday sold $2.2 billion in bonds in a bid to finance construction of new school facilities and to refund debts, according to the pricing scale released by underwriters. Yields topped out at 5.10 percent for bonds due in 2040 with a 5.25 percent coupon. The offering consisted of $1.75 billion of tax-exempt bonds and $442 million of federally taxable bonds. Bonds were rated A-minus with a stable outlook by Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and by Fitch Ratings. Moody's rated the deal A3 with a negative outlook. Bank of America Merrill Lynch managed the deal. New Jersey has suffered nine downgrades during Governor Chris Christie's tenure and is at risk of another because of its underfunded public pensions and financial weakness.

School construction causes dustup with neighborhood
-- Austin Walsh , The Daily Journal

California: August 25, 2015 -- Addressing the frustrations of South San Francisco residents troubled by the unsightliness of the dirt and dust generated by ongoing construction at school sites will be a focus of school officials. Students starting fall classes earlier this month were greeted by work crews still completing construction on projects financed by the Measure J bond, which has been plagued by work delays and myriad financial issues. Of foremost concern to residents living near Buri Buri Elementary, 120 El Campo Drive, is a large dirt mound on the campus facing an adjacent street, which is spewing dust and grime into the surrounding neighborhood. Resident Robert Richardson said he was worried about the neighbors living near the construction at the school campus, as well as the students who are enrolled in classes while the building continues. “The large pile of dirt is really, truly out of hand,” he said. District spokesman Ryan Sebers said the district has worked to get a majority of the mound covered, and though a portion needs to stay exposed because it is constantly being used for projects, workers are constantly hosing it down regularly to reduce the amount of dust generated. The contractor has also hired a street sweeper vehicle which regularly circulates the neighborhood near the school, to keep the roads near homes as clean as possible, said Sebers. And to further ease the burden of exposure to construction, the district plans to purchase a couple car wash vouchers for all the residents living in the neighborhood near Buri Buri Elementary, and another batch when construction is completed, which is estimated to be next year, said Sebers.

34 Springfield schools getting renovations
-- Tashanea Whitlow, WWLP.com

Massachusetts: August 24, 2015 -- Schools across Springfield are getting some much needed work done. The city and state have allocated $30-million to update 34 schools across Springfield. They’re updating heating and ventilation and upgrading older windows. Springfield Superintendent Daniel Warwick told 22News a lot of maintenance was put off for years. Warwick said, “It catches up to you and you have to make major adjustments to the schools. The mayor’s been willing to do that with city funding and we’ve been very aggressive with the Mass. State Building Authority, putting in for accelerated repair projects, as well as new schools.”

Safety inspections at school construction sites questioned
-- Karen Dillon, LJWorld.com

Kansas: August 23, 2015 -- Both Lawrence and Douglas County codes require that fences or barriers are installed at construction sites like the one at New York Elementary School where a child fell recently and was seriously injured, several officials told the Lawrence Journal-World last week. The International Building Code — which is followed by the city, county and school district — requires that 8-foot barriers be installed around the perimeter of a project if the construction is within five feet of sidewalks, which it was at New York Elementary, officials from the city, county and school district said. Usually construction projects, from beginning to end, must go through a series of inspections by the local government’s building-codes inspectors. And if the property owners or contractors violate the code, they are subject to penalties. But the district’s construction project took a different path regarding construction codes, city, county and district officials agree.

Interim schools and construction up ahead for Portland students as bond work continues
-- Laura Frazier, Oregonlive.com

Oregon: August 22, 2015 -- Many Portland Public Schools students will return to class Thursday at a temporary school or one under construction as three buildings are overhauled with about $236 million in bond funds. Roosevelt High, Franklin High and Faubion K-8 School are being revamped as part of the district's 2012 bond program. Work is well underway at Roosevelt and Franklin high schools, where about 60 percent of the schools will be modernized and 40 percent will be newly constructed, said Jim Owens, school modernization lead. Faubion School will be demolished this fall and rebuilt. Faubion School and Franklin High students will spend the next two years at transitional sites, whereas Roosevelt High staff and students will work around construction crews. Owens said projects are on track and new schools should be ready for students by fall of 2017. Owens' last day with the district was Friday and the district is looking for his replacement.

School district lays out $150 million tentative 10-year plan for capital projects
-- JAKE MARTIN, The St. Augustine Record

Florida: August 21, 2015 -- The St. Johns County School District released a tentative list of capital projects totaling $150 million to potentially be funded over the next 10 years. Tim Forson, deputy superintendent of operations, called it a “high-needs list,” although not necessarily a complete list. “What we know today is not what we might know five years from now or even three years from now,” he said. The projects outlined include $106 million for three new K-8 academies, one elementary school and two school expansions. Forson said many of the items on the list will be necessary regardless of whether a ½-cent sales tax increase is approved by voters on Nov. 3. “What it means is either some of these would be delayed or some of these would displace other projects,” he said. “Some may not happen at all.” Demands of high growth over several years have resulted in cases of deferred maintenance and site improvements at older schools. About $14 million in maintenance projects for existing facilities were included in the list.

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