Friday, December 1, 2006
State aid for school construction will be hard to get
Pointing to an easel and flow chart, consultant Chuck Adam showed dozens of steps in the new school building reimbursement process to the Carlisle School Building Committee (SBC) at a meeting November 20. The SBC invited Adam from PinnacleOne, a construction consulting company, to share his understanding of the new Massachusetts School Building Authority guidelines and to help the school navigate what Adam called the "mine fields" in the process.
With state aid to school building projects set to resume in July 2007 after fiscal reform and a moratorium of several years, school districts across the state are working to complete Statements of Interest, the first step in the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) process. Some districts have completed and filed their Statements of Interest, while many others are in the process of writing them.
The state authorized $500 million in school building funds per year, with 4.5% a year added for growth. The reimbursement system will use a dedicated tax funded from the Massachusetts sales tax.
OPM oversees project
As required by the state, the school must hire an Owner's Project Manager (OPM), such as PinnacleOne, once a building project is approved. The OPM oversees spending and adds professional oversight of construction practices on an ongoing basis.
Currently there are just nine MSBA employees to review all the school building project applications, though Adam said he expects the state to hire consultants, including cost-estimating firms, to assist the agency. MSBA members will review school proposals and vote on them. Any building project approved next July must wait until December 2007 to receive final approval.
New rules change timetables
If a school district receives MSBA approval for a project, the district must secure local approval for borrowing within 120 days, or four months. In Carlisle, local approval is required at both Town Meeting and on the ballot. In the high-stakes process, if a school fails to get local voter approval, the project automatically loses MSBA funding approval and the district must re-apply to the state all over again.
One improvement to the old reimbursement process is the speed with which the state will pay school districts. Previously, once a project was complete and audited, it took years for the state to reimburse towns and cities. Once a project is approved now, the state plans to reimburse school districts promptly in monthly checks. Reimbursement rates are expected to range from a minimum of 40% to a maximum of 65% based on a priority system that includes factors including the wealth of a school district.
The days of 95% reimbursement are gone, said Adam, about the rate previously paid to some school districts in low-income cities. Referring to a few schools in the state that are considered over-built, he explained the state's view of such buildings, "The MSBA doesn't want to fund monuments to architects' design work."
SBC Chair Christy Barbee asked what the chances are of Carlisle receiving funding from the state if the school moves forward with the project without first getting MSBA approval. "They can't exclude you legally," he said, but he cautioned that reimbursement would probably be at the lower 40% rate.
The school plans to demolish the Spalding Building and build a modern elementary school addition connected to both the Corey and Wilkins Buildings. The 50-year-old Spalding Building, which now holds kindergarten and first-grade classrooms, is considered in the worst condition of the school's buildings due to poor construction. Spalding, which is not connected to any other building on campus, was rated by the state earlier this year, indicating it is in poor condition and "may be a candidate for replacement." The poor rating could help the project gain approval, either in 2007 or a later year as the MSBA works through its stack of applications.
Statement of Interest
Carlisle School Business Manager Heidi Zimmerman expects a Statement of Interest to be ready for submission to the state by the end of January. The consultants reviewed a draft of the Statement of Interest before the meeting, adding comments on how the school could optimize its application for the MSBA. For example, the highest priority is given to replacing or renovating a building that is considered unsound. Pinnacle advised the SBC to carefully document any work done on the Spalding Building in detail and include any professional evaluations of the roof and heating system conditions, previous mold issues, lack of a sprinkler system and other problems in the building.
Adam told the SBC, "You've done a good job with the Master Plan," advising the committee to cut and paste from the document as it prepares the Statement of Interest for the state. The Master Plan, completed last spring by HMFH architects, documents the condition of all the school's buildings. Adam emphasized the MSBA would like to see renovation projects rather than new building projects to reduce costs.
The MSBA also states that school building committees with an active project must include an architect, an engineer, a building contractor and an educator. Carlisle does not have an architect on the Building Committee at this time, though it expects to have one as the project progresses.
"Though school building reform is designed for the economic good of the Commonwealth, in some ways it's very discouraging," says SBC Chair Barbee, "We have invested five years studying the school's building needs, with the school just completing the comprehensive Master Plan this spring."
As schools line up to apply for limited state reimbursement funds next year, the new process continues to delay building projects, including the planned Carlisle School project. Barbee estimated that if the school waits for state approval it would be 2010, at the earliest, before the building project is complete.
How much can Carlisle afford?
Meanwhile, the SBC has been in discussions with the new Long-Term Financial Planning Subcommittee that includes FinCom members and other town officials to analyze how much the town can afford to spend locally for a building project. In January a financial report is expected to be complete. The analysis now underway will project the town's capital expenditures for the next several years, including costs associated with borrowing for both the Carlisle School project and for the planned Concord-Carlisle High School replacement building project.
The Carlisle School building project is expected to cost $20 to $30 million. The Concord-Carlisle Regional High School plans to replace the entire building complex as it is considered almost as expensive to renovate, at a cost estimated last year at around $90 million.
Asbestos removal update
The hazardous material contractor hired to remove the asbestos found between gaskets in the school's old boiler will add $23,000 to the boiler replacement project. The additional charge will be covered under the original appropriation for the school's heating system replacement approved at Town Meeting last spring, said Zimmerman. The contractor will dismantle the old boiler in a contained area in the Wilkins Building heating room after school or on the weekend for student safety.
© 2006 The