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SBA to consider new funding cycle
-- Jennifer Smith, WV Metro News

West Virginia: September 28, 2014 -- CHARLESTON, W.Va. – When the state School Building Authority meets Monday, they’ll consider an old way of doing things. When the authority first starting handing out millions of dollars in funding for new school construction and renovation more than two decades ago, counties would come to the SBA at the end of the year. The funding cycle was eventually changed to April. New SBA Executive Director Dr. David Sneed said he will propose switching things back to the way it used to be. “In April, we wouldn’t fund projects this year as we normally would. We would wait until December,” explained the executive director. There’s a good reason for that according to Sneed. It comes down to money. “It has been determined that it’s actually cheaper, our bids are lower, if we bid projects before June the first,” he said. That has to do with the construction season and the cost of materials and manpower. Currently there’s more than $2 billion in school construction needs across the state. During this year’s funding cycle, the SBA had $43 million to hand out. That went to seven counties. It’s proof, according to Sneed, that every dollar counts.

Watchdog of Cleveland's school construction project backs $200 million tax proposal
-- Patrick O'Donnell, The Plain Dealer , www.cleveland.com

Ohio: September 27, 2014 -- CLEVELAND, Ohio – The panel formed to be a watchdog of Cleveland's school construction project is backing Issue 4, the school district's $200 million bond issue on the November ballot that will continue the project. "With the state matching most construction spending at $2 for each local dollar spent, the program is a monumentally good deal for Cleveland," members of the Bond Accountability Commission said in a prepared statement. The commission also responded to several common criticisms of the building plan and its continuation. Those are listed below. BAC chairman Alfonso Sanchez said he knew that the schools and the public would ask members for their opinion on the new bond proposal during the campaign, so they decided to speak on it now. Though the BAC still has continuing questions for the district, the commission is "absolutely" behind the bond and the updated plans to rebuild or significantly renovate 20 schools across the city, while "refreshing" or updating 23 to 25 more. Do you agree that the plan is a "monumentally good deal?" Tell us below. The school board passed those plans this summer. For more background on the plans, click HERE. "The children in the school system absolutely need it," Sanchez said. The new bonds would cost homeowners between $85 and $213 a year for a $100,000 home, depending on how fast the school board chooses to pay them off. For the average Cleveland home worth $50,000, the cost would be half that.

School garden teaches more than gardening
-- Doug Oster, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Pennsylvania: September 27, 2014 -- Eight-year-old Dior Clary held an heirloom tomato the size of a baseball in both of her little hands. “I don’t know what kind of tomato it is, but it’s green and delicious,” she said with a sweet smile. Then she went back to harvesting from the garden at Woodland Hills’ Fairless Elementary School, where the students and their teacher, Valerie Alchier, filled up a blue bucket with beans, kale, tomatoes and other produce. Ms. Alchier, a learning support teacher for grades 1-4, wanted her students to learn the many lessons a garden can teach. “I wanted to do the type of project with my kids that would be hands-on, would be a fun activity [and] something they could really get into.” From the looks on these kids’ faces, she has met her goal. Michael Finfrock, 8, couldn’t wait to pick a golden ground cherry and share its sweet flavor with a visitor. The journey actually started two years ago at the North Braddock school. Ms. Alchier grew seedlings with her students and then donated them to community organizations. Last year, she decided to create a vegetable garden in a huge space behind the school that contained colorful park benches and not much more. She applied for and received a $2,000 grant from the Whole Kids Foundation that she used to build raised beds and get everything else needed to make a garden. With the grant came lots of organic seeds, which were supplemented with seed she saved from her own heirloom tomatoes. The novice gardener needed to figure out which of the seeds would be best for the students. “I want to plant stuff where they are going to be able to see the results because that’s exciting for them,” she said.

$21 million unfrozen for Pennsylvania school construction
-- Megan Harris , TribLIVE

Pennsylvania: September 27, 2014 -- State officials approved $21.6 million in long-delayed school construction money Friday, two years after the government froze the payment process for 360 projects statewide. The money, a small fraction of what the state owes, will fund buildings and renovations for 41 schools in 27 districts, including five in Western Pennsylvania. Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq said she is “hopeful that as we progress through the current fiscal year, the department will be able to approve additional projects as more funding becomes available.” Among the projects approved were Bethel Park High School, Chartiers-Houston High School, Montour High School and its district administration office, Penn Hills High School and Pittsburgh Public Schools' University Preparatory School, Science and Technology Academy at Frick and Concord Elementary School. Legislators let a two-year moratorium blocking state funding for new school construction projects expire in June, expanding a financing process that at the time was overcommitted by $1.7 billion statewide. PlanCon, the Education Department's acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, stopped taking applications when legislators halted the process in October 2012. Applications submitted before that progressed slowly but stalled at the step before payments were approved.

West Contra Costa school district: Closer look at costly construction change orders
-- Theresa Harrington , Contra Costa Times

California: September 26, 2014 -- RICHMOND -- The West Contra Costa school district spends about $10.2 million a month on its $1.6 billion school construction program, and after years of lax oversight, questions are starting to arise about change orders adding millions to costs. "There are hundreds, thousands of change orders," said Tom Waller, who heads a subcommittee recently formed to scrutinize the blizzard of change documents submitted for each school construction project. "Our approach so far has been to try and make sense of the system, to understand it. I'd like to comment that -- this bond construction program being 15 to 16 years old -- it is very interesting to me that we are still 'trying to understand the system.'" The discussion about change orders came to a head at a meeting Wednesday of the district's independent citizen's bond oversight committee. To show how often change orders drive up costs, Waller said that new classrooms at Ohlone Elementary School in Hercules -- originally budgeted at $16.9 million -- will cost at least $2 million more because of 120 change orders approved after construction began, half of which were attributed to "design deficiency" or "errors and omissions." Those represent only half of the project's proposed change orders initiated between Dec. 5, 2011, and Aug. 27, 2014. Altogether the changes, if approved, would amount to about 15 percent of the total project costs and could push the price tag for the classrooms above $19.5 million. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Advertisement -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And that represents just one project on the elementary campus, which has a total budget of about $34.6 million for 14 individual jobs. "This is a hot topic. It's a controversial topic. It's an emotional topic," Waller said. "Change orders are a natural and normal part of any construction project. I think where the rub happens is how many change orders there are, the value of the change orders, and so forth. I think that's what we're trying to get our arms around."

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