Regulations Align with School Construction Laws and Processes

The Interagency Commission on School Construction has released draft changes to regulations relating to emergency sheltering, and state cost shares.

Draft regulations on school construction circulating for comment touch on many aspects of school construction that affect county and state capital costs. One aspect is how the state determines how much of a new facility it will help build. Another is how often the state updates its assessment of local wealth, which defines how large a portion of school construction costs come from a local government. This is the second round of input on these regulations, which have been updated based on initial feedback.

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Many details driving school construction costs may be found in state regulations.

As summarized by the Executive Director of the Public School Construction Program in a letter to local school boards about the regulations,

In the attached draft, you will notice a number of changes from the original based upon the feedback we received.
• The definition of utilization (14.37.01.01) has been removed, and utilization continues to be defined in the Administrative Procedures Guide as enrollment divided by state rated capacity.
• The requirement to include cost information in the Educational Facilities Master Plan has been removed. (14.37.02.02)
• Best Value procurement has been addressed (see changes to 14.37.01 and 14.37.03)
• Emergency Shelter Designation requirements have been refined to require only a determination from the LEA (COMAR 14.37.02.29)
• Removal of the year-specific State Cost Share Percentages (14.37.02.05) – The calculation requirements remain and the IAC will be required to approve the state local cost share each year, but this removes the specific year percentages due to the challenges associated with updating the COMAR each year in order to keep the cost shares up to date

Though there are many state laws relating to school construction, regulations often serve to relate laws into practice. The draft of proposed updates to regulations  provided to local school boards for their input and review carry-out some of the changes set in motion by the 21st Century School Facilities Act.

For example, the 21st Century School Facilities Act stated that,

(A) Each county board shall make a determination of the public schools within the jurisdiction of the county board that should be designated as emergency management shelters.

(B) The determination pf the county board shall be based on

  1. Consistency with local emergency management plans and criteria; and
  2. The availability of funding.

The idea that not every school should be required to be built to emergency sheltering standards was raised by MACo over the past several years of advocacy on school construction issues. In some cases, building a school to serve also as an emergency shelter creates unnecessary costs, as additional sheltering capacity is not needed in some regions, and some schools are not located appropriately to accept sheltering populations.

The draft regulations recently released place the language passed into law last legislative session directly into the regulation, including it alongside requirements for emergency power generation in those school facilities used as shelters. As this change is implemented, it may help counties confronting increasing school construction costs to address needs of students more effectively. For more information about this change and the others proposed, see the draft regulations. (In another article, I will discuss the proposal relating to school capacity and state cost share percentages, larger topics.)

Budgeting to maintain local infrastructure is an essential function of county government. You must understand your infrastructure needs and maintenance schedule, establish project priorities, and develop sustainable funding mechanisms. Panelists at the MACo Winter Conference session, “Dollars & Sense: Building a Capital Budget,” will share best practices for planning and financing capital projects to meet public infrastructure and facility needs.

The MACo Winter Conference will be held January 2-4, 2019 at the Hyatt in Cambridge, Maryland.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference:

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