PlanCON's return good news for Ringgold
Ringgold's plan to build a middle school has received a financial boost because the state has revived the program that funds new building construction.
The state has lifted the moratorium on PlanCON, which began in October 2012.
PlanCON, short for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for state reimbursement.
The forms are designed to document a local school district's planning process, provide justification for a project to the public, ascertain compliance with state laws and regulations, and establish the level of state participation in project costs.
“We were a little surprised that the moratorium was lifted,” Ringgold Business Manager Randy Skrinjorich said of the Legislature's action. “They only put $10 million into it, but at least they opened up the door and are accepting applications.
“Hopefully when they put in a new governor, they'll put in a new plan to fund this.”
Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said the moratorium ended with the start of the new state fiscal year, which began July 1.
Eller said the General Assembly made $10 million available for new school construction under PlanCON.
“There are 340 projects in the PlanCON process right now,” Eller said. “Any new project would get in line behind those projects.”
No projects have been added since the moratorium took effect Oct. 1, 2012. Seventy-five projects came in right before the moratorium.
Applying is the first of 11 steps in PlanCON. Reimbursement does not come until a project reaches Part H.
Two hundred projects are awaiting Part H. An additional 140 are in stages A through G, Eller said.
Once a project enters at Plan A, it is eligible for reimbursement.
Eller estimated it would take Ringgold's project a minimum of two years to reach Plan H, but that could be accelerated if lawmakers add more money to the PlanCON line item.
“It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when,” Eller said. “They will get reimbursed as long as they meet the qualifications of PlanCON.”
School Board Vice President Bill Stein expects the board to approve the PlanCON application process when it meets Wednesday.
The district is entering the design phase of the construction project. The board must conduct a public hearing on the project before seeking bids.
At its June 25 meeting, the board agreed to begin design and planning for a middle school building on the high school campus in Carroll Township.
The district likely will be ready to seek project bids by July 2015.
“If we could speed it up a month or two, that just gets us some lead room so we're ready for opening (for the) 2017-18 school year,” Stein said. “It will put to bed these old buildings and injunctions.”
Monongahela and Donora councils last week authorized their solicitors to explore requests for an injunction to stop the planned Aug. 6 auction of two shuttered elementary schools.
Donora and Monongahela elementary centers were closed at the end of the 2010-11 school year. At one time, the board considered reopening the buildings and renovating them for use as middle schools.
But the board ultimately opted to pursue a new middle school.
The debate over whether to renovate the old structures or construct a building was swayed by the political makeup of the board.
The discussion likely caused the district to miss an opportunity to enter PlanCON before the moratorium began.
The new middle school would replace Ringgold Middle School – the former Finleyville Middle School – which has been shifting slightly for many years because of pyrite beneath the building.
“We're going ahead with a new school now that PlanCON is back,” Stein said. “Nothing is stopping that.”
Through money set aside in budgets over the years, the district has accumulated cash equal to 6 mills in real estate tax revenue that can be used for the new building.
One mill is equal to $125,000.
Under PlanCON, the district would cover construction costs up front and then be reimbursed by the state. The state commits to a 20-year reimbursement under PlanCON.
“I think that everybody sees this potential new school's a reality now,” Stein said
“It's time to get on with it to avoid these continuing issues with Ringgold Middle School.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.