West Jefferson Hills school officials hoping state reimbursement program is approved

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The West Jefferson Hills School District could have to pay an additional $4 million toward the proposed building or renovation of a new high school if a state reimbursement program for school construction and renovation projects is not reinstated, officials said.

“It's $4 million. I know it might sound like a small amount compared to the cost of a project, but it's still a lot of money,” acting assistant Superintendent Hamsini Rajgopal said.

School board members, in a unanimous vote on Tuesday, approved a resolution urging increased state funding for school construction and renovation projects.

The state education department's “Planning and Education Workbook,” more commonly referred to as PlanCon, was put in moratorium last year. The program requires districts to submit detailed reviews of construction projects that includes justifying the need for the project, how it is designed, acquiring the land, building it and paying for it.

The program has flat lined its nearly $300 million a year reimbursement funding for districts' construction and renovation projects since the 2011-12 school year and has had a nearly $30 million drop in reimbursements to districts since the 2009-10 school year, the resolution states.

With proposed construction projects planned in the West Jefferson Hills School District — including the possible construction of a new high school or renovation of the current facility — district officials are asking that the state funding be reinstated to assist in financing the projects, Rajgopal said, noting the district has used PlanCon for past construction projects including renovations at Pleasant Hills Middle School.

District architect Ryan Pierce, president of JC Pierce LLC, last week presented board members with rankings of three options for a high school modernization project.

An option to construct a high school on a newly acquired 151-acre lot on Old Clairton Road for $74.7 million received the highest ranking, with nearly double the score of any other option from district officials and representatives from JC Pierce.

That cost is about $4 million higher than previous estimates because it assumes no reimbursements through the PlanCon program, district officials said last week. Pierce said the $4 million figure is just a “ball park” for how much the district could get back in state reimbursements for a high school construction project.

Board members are awaiting a final report from a financial consultant, hired last month, to determine how the project could be financed.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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