School projects to get $600 million
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HARRISBURG -- The federal stimulus program is providing new benefits for Pennsylvania, funneling more than $600 million to help pay for construction projects in many of the state's school districts, including 13 districts in Western Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell said Thursday.
The largest single amount going to southwestern Pennsylvania is $50.5 million for the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Pittsburgh Public Schools spokesman Craig Kwiecinski said the district -- one of 46 in the state to get funding -- has not yet received an award letter "but we know from discussion with the state that at least four projects we submitted applications for may have been funded."
The federal money, he said, will be applied to increasing energy efficiency at Perry, Oliver and Langley high schools and expanding pre-kindergarten space at Pittsburgh Northview PreK-5.
"Obviously, we are very pleased with the award," he said.
Across the state, $602 million will be available to help pay for 101 construction projects.
Other school districts receiving funding include McKeesport Area, which will get $15 million. The same amount will be going to East Allegheny, New Castle Area and Sharon. Washington, Pa., will get $20 million in stimulus funds, and South Fayette, $16.8 million.
Washington School District will use most of the money to renovate its high school, while lesser amount will be used for energy conservation projects and renovations at the elementary school, district business manager Rick Mancini said.
Federal funding is also going to Big Beaver Falls Area, along with Cornell, Duquesne City, Farrell Area, Jeannette and Peters. Money has also been set aside for districts in the Altoona/Johnstown area and Erie.
Pennsylvania is getting the sixth highest amount in the nation.
The federal money will be used to pay interest on bond money that will be borrowed to finance the projects, as well as for bond underwriting and counsel fees, Mr. Rendell said. Each school district will pay off the principal of the loan.
Three kinds of construction projects are involved: those making school buildings more energy efficient or reducing water consumption; those providing facilities for early childhood education programs; and those building labs for science, technology, engineering or math courses.
"These funds will help put people to work on vital construction projects, save energy costs and help improve education programs," while saving taxpayers in the school districts the amounts they would have had to pay for debt service on the bonds, said Mr. Rendell.
But Bille Rondinelli, superintendent of the South Fayette School District, said her district was not yet sure about how or if it would use the bond money. Normally, bonds used by the district for construction must be paid back in 25 or 30 years, but these need to be paid back in 17 years, Dr. Rondinelli said.
This would increase the yearly payments on the construction projects, so she said the school board has yet to make a decision on whether or not to accept the state's offer.
The stimulus program was controversial when Congress enacted it last year, with U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, then a Republican, providing a key vote in support of it before he switched and became a Democrat. Mr. Rendell said the program already has provided many jobs in manufacturing and construction in the state.
The stimulus program is also providing $2.7 billion to balance this year's $27.8 billion state budget, he said.
"The stimulus program has been a godsend for Pennsylvania," he added.
First Published June 4, 2010 12:02 am