Massachusetts Unlocks $2.5B for Schools

The Bay State’s 1,600 public schools have been starving for money to repair, renovate, and build new facilities because of a funding moratorium imposed in 2004 by the newly created Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

The funding floodgates opened a little bit in late November, when the MSBA announced 83 schools as the lead candidates for up to $500M in construction money to be used for repairs, feasibility studies, design work, and some new buildings.

“Every district that is among the 83 schools should greet this with real jubilation after a four-year moratorium,” said Katherine Craven, executive director of the MSBA, according to the Boston Globe.

The MSBA was created four years ago to improve the state’s school facility financing process and to ensure equitable assessment of the needs of the state’s public schools. Its strategy included hiring teams of independent architects and engineers to assess in a very hands-on manner each school’s building needs. The MSBA with a team of 25 consultants from STV, an architectural and engineering firm in New York City, visited each site equipped with tablet computers loaded with special software that is tailor-made for Massachusetts.

“We created a custom-made software program to measure specific building conditions identified as priorities in Massachusetts law,” said Price Jepsen, AIA, STV project manager. “None of this is cookie-cutter. Using the MSBA’s criteria, we spend two days in the field to establish in fine detail whether a building is an imminent threat to health and safety, functionally obsolete, requires energy efficiency improvements, or is in jeopardy of overcrowding.” To date, the teams have visited 423 schools.

At each school site, the assessment teams punch in details about the condition of the building’s exterior walls, roof, interior finishes, plumbing, technology systems, and general age and condition. This information is uploaded to the MSBA server and used to develop a comprehensive report of each building’s condition, which can be compared with other school conditions and requests across the Commonwealth. The teams then translate the building condition report into capital improvement cost estimates and a facility conditions index. The MSBA uses this information to determine the appropriate distribution of funds.

In addition to in-depth physical assessments, six STV senior staff are spear-heading a “senior study” project to visit 135 targeted schools to give evaluations on more complex issues about how a school functions — for example, is it meeting its educational mission with the appropriate programs and with enough space?

Of the 423 school requests for next year, 245 were from elementary schools, 81 from high schools, and 69 from middle schools. The $500M infusion for fiscal year 2008 represents the first phase of a five-year program by MSBA to distribute approximately $2.5B for school construction projects.

STV, an employee-owned firm, provides full architectural, engineering, planning, environmental, and construction management services. Recently, Engineering News-Record ranked STV 12th in Education in its Top Design Firms survey. For more information, see STV's Website at www.stvinc.com.

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