Friday, July 14, 2006
MSBA readies guidelines for school building projects
What will state aid for school building projects be like under the reorganized Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA)? In mid-June, school administrators sought clues at a state-wide forum on preliminary MSBA guidelines, but there were far more questions than answers.
The MSBA was created in July, 2004, to develop a reform plan for the school building assistance program. The previous program had run $10.7 billion in debt. The regulatory body decides what school building projects it will help finance and determines reimbursement amounts for those projects. After a moratorium was put in place to curb further debt, the MSBA started working on the new guidelines for cities and towns to follow to be eligible for state funds. The preliminary draft was expected in January, but did not arrive until late May.
The preliminary guidelines include requirements for eligibility, standards for educational space, site considerations, cost standards, application and approval procedures and design and review procedures. Although no grant percentage formula is defined in detail in the document, there are ways to increase the percentage of reimbursement by getting points for energy efficiency (2%), innovative community use (3%), and a rating worth up to 8% based on previous practices of maintenance and upkeep of existing facilities.
The MSBA has been holding hearings for all school districts to articulate their concerns about the preliminary guidelines. Last month, Concord-Carlisle Regional School District (RSD) Superintendent Brenda Finn, Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle, RSD Director of Finance and Operations John Flaherty and Regional School Committee (RSC) member Jerry Wedge attended one of these forums. State representatives and a state senator were also present. The MSBA did not answer many questions, but recorded questions on procedures and the standards. They will use those questions to add more details to the final draft of the guidelines. The public comment period on the drafted regulations has been extended to July 31. The final draft of the guidelines is expected soon after this date.
Surveying school buildings
Along with creating new guidelines, the MSBA undertook a survey of the general conditions of all 1,817 public school buildings in the Commonwealth. The MSBA rated the buildings on a scale of 1 to 4, where "1" means the building is in fine shape, and a "4" means the building is a candidate for replacement.
The results of this survey show that of the 1,817 school buildings, over 76% are rated in generally good condition, only 3% or 62 schools, were rated in need of substantial work and there was little correlation between the relative wealth of a school district and the general condition of the school buildings within that district. Also, Massachusetts state taxpayers have expended a substantial amount on building schools over the last 60 years. Of the 1,817 schools in the state, 1,156, or 63% are currently being reimbursed for construction or renovation projects undertaken between 1986 and 2005 with a cost of roughly $11 billion. The Commonwealth has been paying an average of 72% of local capital school construction or renovation costs prior to reform. Other results show that almost one half of the current school facility square footage in the state is new or recently renovated.
Finn received the Final Report of the School Facilities Needs Survey from the MSBA in June. Concord-Carlisle Regional High School as been rated a "4." The report lists a variety of health and safety issues with the CCHS facility including inadequate fire protection (doors, alarms, sprinkling system), gas into the building at 11 different locations, poor communication and exit doors needing replacement. It also flagged the condition of exterior walls and windows, roofing, the plumbing system, the electrical lighting and distribution system, interior walls, floors and ceilings, HVAC, fire and life safety concerns, accessibility problems, technology inadequacies and energy concerns.
The uncertainty of MSBA aid has been one factor delaying the RSC's plans to upgrade the school facility. Finn said, "We will be talking to them [the MSBA] this summer."
To see the new guidelines, go to www.mass.gov/msba/index.htm and click on "New Regulations and Guidelines for 2007."
© 2006 The