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SBA to consider funding options as inflation impacts school construction project awards


CHARLESTON — Members of the state School Building Authority are looking at ways to generate more funds to pay for school construction projects as a result of rising costs tied to inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve got a lot of needs and very little ability to award those projects. Our finances are weak and we’re trying to increase that with whatever we can and with what we have right now,” SBA Executive Director David Roach told MetroNews.

During a special meeting of the SBA in Charleston on Thursday, Roach recommended moving forward with a plan to investigate funding sources. The authority is working with the Public Resources Advisory Group to come up with solutions.

One suggestion is to replace existing debt.

“Refinancing our bonds is what we’re currently approaching and that’s the only way right now that we have,” Roach said.

The other option is to ask for more funds from the state Legislature, but Roach said he’d rather not do that for now.

Roach said the cost to build a new school is way more than it used to be.

“If you had $60 million in 1990, it would require $255 million (now) to be equal to that $60 million,” he said. “It’s no wonder they could do a lot more back then compared to what we can do now. When there’s bonds that counties wanting to pass and there’s needs, we just can’t meet them.”

Progress has been slow to rebuild six schools destroyed in the 2016 flood. Work on the new Clendenin Elementary School and Herbert Hoover High School in Kanawha County is underway. Site preparation has been complete for projects in Nicholas County, but state education officials said earlier this month FEMA hasn’t been flexible to fund those projects.

Meanwhile, the SBA has twice said no to Monongalia County Schools in just as many years.

Mon wants to tack three high-tech classrooms and learning labs onto the county Technical Education Center.

The SBA first said no in 2020 to the request — while denying it a second time this past December.
Roach said, on average, the SBA can afford about $51 million annually to award school districts, but inflation costs tied to construction materials has put a burden on the authority’s finances.

Without the additional funding, Roach said school buildings will fall apart and lead to
poor learning environments, ultimately impacting education.

“It eliminates our ability to grant awards to counties for schools, renovations and things they need like roofs and HVACs,” he said.

The SBA will meet again before its March 28 meeting. The goal is to have a plan in place within the next few months.