The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) praises the recent passage of legislation to update and improve the process for state reimbursement of public school construction projects.
The PSBA is urging Gov. Tom Wolf to sign Senate Bill 700 into law.
The legislation incorporates the recommendations of the Public School Building Construction and Reconstruction Advisory Committee to address concerns over the approval process known as PlanCon.
The Grove City School District is in the midst of a $37.6 million construction project that will enable grades Kindergarten through fifth to be in the same building. The district is building an addition onto an existing school and renovating it as well. The project has just about reached its half-way mark.
Superintendent Jeffrey Finch said the new legislation would not affect their current construction as it was approved under the old PlanCon system.
“It’s a good thing if you’re coming from the mindset of the past couple years when they were unsure if they were going to offer funding,” Finch said.
Finch had other reasons why the new PlanCon system could be advantageous to schools.
“Some of its intent is to make it less cumbersome,” he said. “Helping schools target smaller projects so they could be eligible for efficient growth. Categorizing funds to support school safety and school security.”
Finch thinks the state has good intentions.
“But we’ll see what it takes when you have to navigate all the paperwork and come out the other side,” Finch said.
He also said that the original PlanCon system dates back to 1973, so an update on procedures was needed.
“School districts have sought changes to the outdated procedures that were established in the1970s and the issues and delays they caused,” Annette Stevenson, chief communications officer for PSBA stated in a press release. “Problems were compounded in 2016 when the state implemented a moratorium on acceptance of school projects for reimbursement, leaving school districts and local taxpayers with the sole responsibility to finance renovation and construction process.”
The PSBA contends that the current PlanCon process is burdensome, expensive and needlessly complicated for school districts.
“Along with the lack of state funding, these overly complicated requirements have caused major delays in moving school construction projects forward,” said Nathan G. Mains, PSBA chief executive officer. “Pennsylvania is at an important juncture in addressing both of these problems and Senate Bill 700 is a positive step in solving this two-fold problem.”
Mains went on to state that the need to address aging and inadequate school facilities is critical.
“We know schools are struggling with financing projects to fix leaking roofs, failing mechanical and electrical systems and the crumbling infrastructure,” Mains stated. “Schools are also undertaking necessary projects to address overcrowded classrooms and to enhance school security issues.”
Finch is trying to be optimistic about the changes, hoping it will make the process easier.
“I just think that the detail is important. The procedural applications will reveal how supportive the new system will be,” Finch said. “They have categorized things into different scales and scopes to encourage smaller projects. Sometimes the smaller project offers layers of opportunity.”
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