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News items come from the U.S. Department of Educations's National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF).

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."

State rejects plan for $244 million downtown school
-- James Vaznis, The Boston Globe

Massachusetts: September 26, 2014 -- The Massachusetts School Building Authority is putting the brakes on a $244 million school construction project in downtown Boston, citing high costs and other logistical issues associated with building above an interstate highway ramp. It would have been the most expensive school building ever constructed in Massachusetts. The state remains committed to a project for Boston Arts Academy and the Josiah Quincy Upper School, which would have shared a building on Kneeland Street, but is urging Boston to find a more suitable site. Under the proposal, the city would have had to spend about $31 million to cap a portion of an Interstate 93 ramp and to build an unrestricted roadway through the center of the building’s ground floor, providing the state Highway Department access to a facility on adjacent land. “I think it was worth investigating this,” Jack McCarthy, executive director of the School Building Authority, said in an interview Thursday. But he added, “When it came down to the dollars and cents, we had to question it: Does this really make sense?” The authority officially notified the city and school officials about the Boston Arts/Upper Quincy project in a letter e-mailed late Wednesday afternoon, dashing hopes of students, parents, and staff who have been pushing for years for a new school facility. Interim Superintendent John McDonough said in a statement that building a school on the Kneeland Street site, known as Parcel 25, was “ambitious.” “Although the Parcel 25 proposal would be more cost- effective than other options we have examined, the site adds a unique layer of complexity that could change the overall cost impact,” McDonough said. “Regardless of location, students in these two highly successful schools deserve to have facilities that serve them well.”

11 protestors upset over school closing arrested at City Hall
-- Staff Writer, Chicago Sun-Times

Illinois: September 24, 2014 -- Eleven protestors, upset over the impending closure of Bronzeville’s Dyett High School, were arrested Tuesday evening after a sit-in at City Hall. Parents and neighborhood activists planned the sit-in and a press conference over Dyett High at 555 E. 51st St., which is expected to close after this school year. According to city spokesperson Kelley Quinn, “City officials met with the group several times regarding their list of demands—and in fact agreed to the majority of them.” However, the group refused to leave, even after the building closed at 6 p.m., according to Quinn. The group told staffers and police that “regardless of any concessions,” they wanted to be arrested, according to Quinn. At 11:45 p.m., 11 people were taken into custody and charged with criminal trespassing on city property, a misdemeanor, according to Quinn. Several students at the protest said it has been hard to stay motivated this year because the school environment is depressing.

S.F. school playground could rise to new heights
-- Phillip Matier And Andrew Ross,

California: September 24, 2014 -- Real estate in San Francisco’s Mission District is so hot that a developer is offering to raise a school playground 15 feet above ground level so the 10-story condo complex the firm is building won’t cast a shadow on the kids during recess. In addition to lifting the playground into the sun, it would lift the kids above the riffraff who hang out at the nearby 16th Street BART Station. Or as project spokesman Joe Arellano likes to put it: “alleviate public safety and quality-of-life concerns that confront the area.” The playground-in-the-sky proposal is the latest twist in the fight over a 303-unit project that Maximus Partners wants to build near the BART station. Latino groups are worried about gentrification. Advocates for the homeless fear the high-end influx will drive the down and out from their hangout at the BART station plaza. Much of the opposition, however, is based on how the 105-foot-high condo would affect the playground of Marshall Elementary, a Spanish-immersion school, around the block at 15th Street and South Van Ness Avenue.

Sacramento taxpayer group tries new tactic on school bonds
-- Diana Lambert, The Sacramento Bee

California: September 23, 2014 -- The Sacramento Taxpayers Association is changing its tactics when it comes to school bonds. Instead of simply opposing school bonds they don’t like, representatives from the organization have been meeting with Sacramento County school districts since early summer to collaborate on them. They recently dubbed the effort the Better Ways to Build Schools initiative. “Schools need to be built,” said the association’s Michael Day. “The goal is to get to the point where they are building schools that we can actively support.” The arrangement goes beyond what other taxpayers organizations have done across the state, said Dave Walrath, a consultant with California’s Coalition for Adequate School Housing, which advocates for funding to build schools. Unlike other such collaborations, which focus on the financing of the bonds, the Sacramento Taxpayers Association is involved in discussions on reducing costs in the building and renovating of schools. The STA also plans to help raise money for bond campaigns, so districts don’t have to take money from businesses that would stand to profit from the construction of schools or the sale of the bonds to build them, Day said. School districts are prohibited from spending public money to fund bond campaigns. “I’ve never heard of anybody doing that before,” Walrath said. “That seems to be a very interesting and novel approach.” The effort started in earnest this summer when members of the taxpayers association contacted each Sacramento County school district superintendent to say they would like to be part of the discussion when districts planned to issue bonds or put a bond measure on the ballot. Now, officials from almost every school district are working with the taxpayers group, Day said. “From my perspective, if there is a way to decrease cost, I’m all in,” said Natomas Unified Superintendent Chris Evans, whose district has a $129 million facilities bond on the ballot in November. The money will be used to build new campuses once a federal building moratorium expires and to upgrade 19 existing schools.

Lawmaker pushes for more partnerships between Maine schools, community organizations
-- Nell Gluckman, Bangor Daily News Maine

Maine: September 23, 2014 -- BANGOR, Maine — Nearly 70 percent of all children under age 6 in Maine live in households where both parents work, Rita Furlow of the Maine Children’s Alliance told a room full of teachers, school administrators, lawmakers and other education officials on Tuesday. She also presented census data showing that about 17 percent of children in Maine lived in poverty in 2013. Those are among the reasons Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, hopes the concept of community schools will take hold in Maine. Millett organized the event held at Eastern Maine Community College, which drew at least 50 people. Community schools are public, private, charter or parochial schools that have built strong partnerships with local groups. The idea is to extend the program schools can offer students beyond the academic curriculum by working with organizations such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls clubs, local colleges, libraries or other groups. “The word is intentional,” Mary Kingston Roche, public policy manager for the Coalition for Community Schools, a national organization, told the group. “That’s the difference between how a regular school partners with the community and how a community school does.” Many of the partnerships that make an institution a community school promote the health and safety of the students.

Extra costs could delay renovations for city's most dilapidated schools
-- Colin Campbell, , The Baltimore Sun

Maryland: September 23, 2014 -- When Baltimore city schools and the Maryland Stadium Authority adopted a plan to update the city's aging school buildings in January 2013, they hoped to rebuild or restore 30 to 35 schools in the first phase of renovations. But studies to identify the schools' needs determined that the $977 million in bond funding the system expects to receive would cover only 23 to 28 schools. The city school commissioners at their board meeting Tuesday night reviewed a hotly contested recommendation to defer renovations to some of Baltimore's most dilapidated schools because they would be the costliest to renovate. Other measures proposed by the school system and the stadium authority included increasing utilization rates to 90 percent, reconfiguring grade levels at one school and doing "strategic modernizations" where possible to create more flexible space.

The push for a $200 million tax for new schools starts in Cleveland (With proposed tax bill changes)
-- Patrick O'Donnell, The Plain Dealer,

Ohio: September 20, 2014 -- CLEVELAND, Ohio – The campaign for Cleveland's $200 million tax to build new schools has begun. Though the official kickoff will come Wednesday at a rally at East Technical High School, the campaign has started hiring staff and consultants and will start promoting the bond issue this weekend. Issue 4 on November's ballot would approve a $200 million bond issue to replace or renovate 20 schools and "refresh" 23 others. The state would pay two thirds of the cost of the new schools – an amount not yet announced – while the bonds would pay for all of the updates of old buildings. If passed, the work would continue the school construction and rehabilitation program the district started in 2001, with passage of the Issue 14 bond issue that May.

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