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

Museum recognizes Alabama, new high school for safe rooms
-- Jill Nolin, American School & University

National: July 28, 2014 -- An exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. is highlighting the only state in the union – Alabama – that requires tornado safe rooms in new schools. Designing for Disaster, which runs through Aug. 2, allows visitors to take a close look at how policies, plans and designs can help communities withstand natural disasters. An Alabama school, Park Crossing High School in Montgomery, is featured in a portion of the exhibit that is focused on state building codes. Park Crossing, which opened last fall, incorporated seven safe rooms into its multi-building, 165,390-square foot campus, with the areas of refuge integrated into classrooms and music/band rehearsal spaces. Instead of building one large safe room, multiple safe rooms were distributed throughout the school so students and staff would have a shelter in close proximity. The safe rooms span two stories and are enclosed by rebar-reinforced concrete walls designed to meet the state standards that took effect in 2010, according to the design firm, Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood (GMC). Steel shutters, which also function as bulletin boards, are located within the classrooms to keep debris and broken glass from flying inside when locked. The shelters have the capacity to protect 1,200 people from 250-mile-per-hour winds.

Amid coal uncertainty, Wyoming school construction funds projected to waver
-- LEAH TODD, Casper Star Tribune Communications

Wyoming: July 27, 2014 -- When a company wants to dig for coal in Wyoming, it pays a one-time competitive fee to help its bid stand out from what is usually a crowd of companies vying for the right to mine. Over the past 10 years, those fees – called coal lease bonuses – have paid for more than $1 billion in school construction around the state. But if the industry continues its current trend, that money will dry up in 2018. Back-to-back unsuccessful bids on coal-rich lands resulted in no new coal leases in Wyoming in 2013. As a result, the state’s latest fiscal profile shows coal lease bonus revenue dwindling to zero by 2018. That has Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, concerned. “As it stands today, it doesn’t look good,” Landen said. Landen chairs the state Legislature’s Select Committee on School Facilities. Without significant coal leases in the near future, Wyoming must change the way it pays for new schools and school renovations, he said. Lawmakers say they will resolve the situation. Many point to school funding as a high priority, and several said enough savings likely exist to fund some school improvements until a long-term strategy can be developed.

Costs of new schools coming due
-- TRAVIS M. WHITEHEAD, Valley Morning Star

Texas: July 26, 2014 -- HARLINGEN — The Harlingen school district is repaying three construction bonds for a variety of projects, ranging from new schools to a performing arts center and new Ag Farm to an aquatics center. Two of those bond packages, one issued in 1999 and the other in 2010, required tax increases totaling 17.8 cents, Julio Cavazos, assistant superintendent for business services, said. The district, he said, also purchased $13.9 million in Qualified School Construction Bonds in 2013. These bonds were sold to finance the construction of the Harlingen School for Health Professions. The QSCB is a federal program and did not require a tax increase, and the bonds are repaid from the district’s maintenance and operations fund. In 1999, the Harlingen district sold $80,270,000 million worth of bonds, Cavazos said. Voters approved the bond package, and the accompanying tax increase of 8.5 cents per $100 of property valuation. The state Instructional Facilities Allotment grant is paying 47 percent of this debt, which amounts to $2,421,169, with the district paying $2,730,255 per year on these bonds. The outstanding balance is $54,990,000 on bonds that will mature in 2029. The money from those bonds was used to build Vela Middle School and Rodriguez Elementary School, as well as renovations to the district’s central administration building and the home field side of Boggus Stadium. These bonds also paid for classroom space that was added to several campuses, and two mini-stadiums built at Harlingen High School and Harlingen High School South. “The (junior varsity) team plays there,” Cavazos said. “They all have a track.” School district spokesman Shane Strubhart said the money was also used to build a field house at each mini-stadium for a weight room and shower facilities. The $98.6 million bond issue of 2010 required another vote. Taxpayers voted approve the bond sale that would raise their taxes another 9.3 cents per $100 in property value. The district currently owes $87,285,000 on these bonds. An annual payment of $6,385,000 is made to pay these bonds. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act pays $1,000,090 on these bonds, bringing the payment down to $5,295,000. The Instructional Facilities Allotment grant pays $2,488, 650, and the district pays $2,806,350

Summer fix-ups for aging facilities add up for Modesto schools
-- Nan Austin, The Modesto Bee

California: July 24, 2014 -- Truckloads of black asphalt poured stripe after stripe over the aging blacktop of Tuolumne Elementary School. New Principal Heather Contreras looked beyond the brilliant black to the parched field behind, a gold shag carpet of dry grass. “They’ve told me it will be green by the time school starts. As soon as the paving’s done, the water goes on,” Contreras said Thursday, her voice a mix of hope and excitement. That gives the parched pasture just over two weeks to change its color palette before kids return Aug. 11. Outdoor renovation of the 64-year-old campus included steps and wheelchair ramps to manage a 5-foot drop in grade between the school and its playground, and freshly poured concrete walkways angled to accommodate up to a 3-foot shift between classroom wings. The paving trucks will move on this week to La Loma Junior High. Playground striping will be the finishing touch for John Muir Elementary. Work is still going on at Beard Elementary, where road construction has held up progress, said John Liukkonen, district director of maintenance and construction. “Beard’s got me nervous,” he said. This has been a fix-up summer for Modesto City Schools, with dozens of projects long delayed by the recession going on all at once.

Many Pennsylvania school districts wait for millions in state reimbursements
-- Mary Niederberger, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pennsylvania: July 24, 2014 -- It appears the 200 school districts across the state, including 13 from Allegheny County, that are awaiting millions of dollars in state reimbursements for construction projects will continue to wait. The reason: Legislators included only a modest increase to the reimbursement fund of the PlanCon program that since 1973 has provided partial reimbursements to districts for new construction or renovation of buildings. The $10 million increase to the $296 million annual PlanCon fund for distribution is not expected to have much effect on the backlog of payments that has existed for several years, given that Allegheny County districts alone are owed more than $18 million. Along with providing the increase, the new state budget signed by the governor on July 10 ends the October 2012 moratorium on districts‘‍ ability to apply for PlanCon reimbursements, a moratorium set in place because of the backlog of payments. But the ending of the moratorium largely means that more districts can get in line for reimbursement that may be years away. An alphabet soup PlanCon is an acronym for the Planning and Construction Workbook of the state education department. The state has provided reimbursement for school construction since the 1950s, but the process as it is known today has been in effect since 1973. The passage of Act 34 at that time created a complicated 11-step process with parts A through K required for partial reimbursement for school construction and renovation costs. The process is voluntary but mandatory for districts that want state reimbursement. A project is eligible for reimbursement upon its approval of part G but does not get funded until approval of a PlanCon Part H application. The clog in the pipeline exists after approval of part G. Of the 338 projects currently in the PlanCon pipeline, 200 have been approved through Part G. “Everybody who is waiting is waiting for approval of H and [the state Education Department doesn’‍t] want to approve it, because if they approve it then they have to pay,” said Richard Liberto, business manager of the Penn Hills School District, which is owed $4 million in reimbursement on its $64 million high school project. The district is also currently finishing a new $40 million elementary school project that is also in the pipeline for reimbursement.