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PlanCON return good news for Ringgold

| Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

The Ringgold School Board was prepared to build a new middle school with or without state help.

But the revival of the state PlanCON program could mean $18 million in state reimbursement for the project.

PlanCon, short for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for state reimbursement.

PlanCon forms are designed to document a 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 the project cost.

The school board last week authorized architect HHSDR to submit documents applying for funding under PlanCON.

With the start of the state fiscal year on July 1, the Legislature lifted a moratorium on PlanCON.

The moratorium was imposed in October 2012.

Applying is the first of 11 steps in PlanCON. Reimbursement does not come until a project reaches Part H. But once a project enters at Part A, it is eligible for reimbursement.

The Donora and Monongahela elementary centers closed at the end of the 2010-11 school year. At one time, Ringgold considered a plan to reopen the buildings and renovate them for use as middle schools.

The board ultimately decided to pursue construction of a middle school at the Carroll Township site that houses the high school. That building would replace Ringgold Middle School – formerly Finley Middle School – which is shifting slightly because of pyrite beneath the surface.

The district expects the new middle school to be ready for the start of the 2017-18 school year.

The General Assembly set $306 million aside for PlanCON in the current state budget, state Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said.

“All things being equal, I'm not sure if they would see reimbursement by the time the 2017-18 school year begins,” Eller said of Ringgold. “Once they start in the process, they will be retroactively reimbursed.”

Reimbursement would come over 20 years, as the district makes its bond issue payments for the school.

“When people shout, ‘You have to come up with all of the money up front,' that's not really the case,” said board Vice President Bill Stein, adding the state would match PlanCON money with the district's bond payments.

Reimbursements are based on a district's aid ratio, which is based on the market value of all real estate in district, divided by the personal income of all district residents, Eller said. The poorer the district, the higher its aid ratio.

Although the ratio can change annually, Ringgold's aid ratio is 0.6090 – meaning the district is in line to receive reimbursement of nearly 61 cents for each dollar of construction costs.

Stein said building costs will depend upon design, such as will it have an auditorium or just a multi-purpose room; marble floors or tile?

“This school is going to require a lot public input,” Stein said. “There will be public hearings. “Our intent is not to build a Taj Mahal school. Our intent is to build a functional school. We're just looking for an efficient school. We want it to have modern technology, but not go overboard.

“Our aim is to keep it in the $30 million range.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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