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Schools make wish lists for stimulus money

January 29, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, PA. -- Recently asked how they would spend federal stimulus money on construction, Franklin County's public schools superintendents created wish lists that varied in type and scope of projects.

Chambersburg Area School District aimed big, asking for $60 million to renovate the high school and junior high school. Greencastle-Antrim School District requested $28 million for a project that would physically link its middle and high schools.

Tuscarora School District divided up larger projects and decided to ask for $300,000 to improve water lines from the well, $350,000 to replace the high school's interior water system and $250,000 to upgrade sewer lines. It also asked for $500,000 to replace Mercersburg Elementary School's roof, $1.4 million to fix Mercersburg Elementary School's heating and air conditioning systems, and $425,000 to replace the roof at St. Thomas Elementary School.

"If we could get the water and sewer systems, I'd be thrilled," Tuscarora Superintendent Rebecca E. Erb said.

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The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently sent surveys to the state's 501 school districts. An education department spokeswoman said the surveys were designed to gauge how money from the $819 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment federal stimulus plan could be used for school building projects.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives passed the stimulus measure, which includes approximately $140 billion for schools, and the Senate is scheduled to debate its merits next week.

Pennsylvania Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak works with the Council of Chief State School Officers, which asked for input from states, according to Leah Harris, spokeswoman for the education department.

"The money, as proposed, would go directly to districts," she said.

The state wanted districts to submit projects that could start within six months, not ones that are already under way or in a budget, Harris said. They would be projects outside the typical "PlanCon" 10-step process for construction reimbursement, she said.

"These would be construction projects that would be smaller in nature," Harris said.

Waynesboro Area School District Superintendent James Robertson said he did not receive a survey. He's since gotten the template from a neighboring district and identified projects, adding a written explanation that the survey was submitted after last week's deadline because it might have been e-mailed to the recently departed superintendent or assistant superintendent.

"I knew about the stimulus package and the money, but I wasn't aware of a survey," Robertson said.

Robertson requested $1 million for the middle school's infrastructure and added Summitview and Hooverville elementary schools to the list for mechanical systems.

Since the state reimburses capital projects every 20 years, Greencastle-Antrim School District officials were already talking about renovating their middle and high schools. They've initially talked about adding classrooms, creating spaces with better technology for science classes, expanding the auditorium, and combining the cafeterias to have a centralized, more-efficient kitchen, Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover said.

One way to tackle expansion would be to close in the space between the two secondary schools and connect them, he said.

Although growth in the community has slowed, the primary and elementary schools would benefit from having a few extra classrooms, Hoover said.

"If we keep growing at 1 percent, it's 30 kids over the whole district, and it adds up over five years," he said, saying he asked for $6 million for the primary school and $500,000 for the elementary school.

The Greencastle superintendent asked Harrisburg, Pa., architect EI Associates to meet next week to develop the information needed to start a construction project quickly if stimulus money is distributed.

In addition to $60 million for improvements at its secondary schools, Chambersburg Area School District requested $30 million to build its students an academic wing at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center and make other improvements there.

The Associated Press this week quoted national Education Secretary Arne Duncan as saying the economy won't improve without distributing billions of dollars to schools.

"If we want to stimulate the economy, we need a better-educated work force," Duncan said. "That's the only way, long-term, we're going to get out of this economic crisis."

The Obama administration is seeking to boost spending by nearly $500 million on reform-minded programs that fund teacher bonuses tied to student performance, and pay for charter school facilities and state data systems. The spending is in the stimulus plan approved Wednesday in the House, but it is not in the Senate version, the Associated Press reported.

Schools capital projects



o Chambersburg Area Middle School and Faust Junior High School renovation: $60 million

o Academic wing at Franklin County Career and Technology Center: $30 million

o Greencastle-Antrim middle and high schools renovation: $28 million

o Greencastle-Antrim Primary School expansion: $6 million

o Mercersburg Elementary School heating and air conditioning: $1.4 million

o Waynesboro Area Middle School mechanical systems: $1 million

o James Buchanan middle and high schools water system: $650,000

o Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School renovation: $500,000

o Mercersburg Elementary School roof: $500,000

o James Buchanan High School sewer line: $250,000

Staff writer Don Aines contributed to this report.

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