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Schools to apply for BEST grant

On Tuesday, the board of the Archuleta School District 50 Joint approved filing an application for BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant money for the purpose of fixing the roof on the Pagosa Springs Elementary School.

Estimated to cost the district around $1 million, the proposed new roof would cover an existing roof that, ostensibly fixed in 2008, has been subject to numerous leaks throughout the years, a problem that eventually led to the growth of mold in the school.

The current roof is about to reach the end of its warranty.

If the district is approved for BEST funding (administered through the Colorado Department of Education), the district would provide a 65-percent match for a 35-percent grant. Thus, total cost for a $1 million project would mean that $350,000 would be covered by BEST funds with the district responsible for a $650,000 match.

According to district superintendent Mark DeVoti, that funding formula is determined by the CDE through local assessed valuations of property and said that, “It’s the same as it’s been for the past two to three years. And the state redetermines that every year.”

While a $1 million price tag was the figure provided to the board on Tuesday night, DeVoti said yesterday, “We’ve seen some potential solutions for about three-quarters of a million dollars.”

DeVoti added that the district would know by the end of June if it is recommended for the grant, with formal approval coming sometime in mid-August.

“Since this is a roof grant and since it’s under $5 million, we’d be eligible for a ‘cash ramp,’ meaning that funds would be released earlier,” DeVoti said.

However, that point is moot since the district would not be able to begin construction on the roof until the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

Fortunately, that construction would coincide with the end of the current roof’s warranty, an agreement that dictates the contractor provide all materials and labor for any needed repairs.

Should the CDE approve BEST funds for the roof, the money would be dispersed as the district bills the state for various aspects of the project. For instance, if the contractor alerts the district that $100,000 would be needed in January to begin mobilizing for a late-May project start, the district would submit that bill to the state. The CDE would then pay the district $35,000 — the BEST portion of funding provided by the grant — with the district paying the additional $65,000 needed by the contractor.

While the need for a new roof for PSES is apparent, the district’s chances for securing grant funding for that project is far from certain.

Citing the district’s high bonding capacity (the amount of bonding the district can pursue in the county that meets constitutional restrictions), DeVoti added that BEST could also question the wisdom of putting a new roof on a structure that has scored highly on previous Colorado Facility Index assessments (a high score indicates a building in poor condition).

“It comes back to the, ‘Why would you put a new transmission in an old car?’ question,” DeVoti said.

While the board voted Tuesday to approve the pursuit of BEST money, the questions raised by the CDE in approving that funding returns to issues the district had hoped voters would embrace — and approve.

The issue of grant funding became contentious last year when the district put a $49 million bond initiative (3B) on the November ballot but failed to apply for BEST dollars to offset construction costs of a proposed consolidated campus to be built on land adjacent to the Pagosa Springs High School. Opponents of the bond accused the district board of failing to apply for those funds and placing the entire cost of the project on the backs of local taxpayers.

The district responded that it stood a better chance of securing those funds if it filed an application for BEST dollars after voters approved the bond

The initiative failed last November by a 74-26 margin.

Whether or not some local voters will view the board’s change of heart regarding BEST funds as a baldly political move or something that is long past due remains to be seen. Likewise, it will be months before the district will know if the pursuit of BEST grant money was worth the effort or if it supported the original assertion made during last year’s election.

jim@pagosasun.com

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