New law could help fund Hampton High School renovation

Thursday, September 12, 2019 | 12:01 AM

State reimbursement for a high school renovation at Hampton continues to be a possibility now that a new state law has passed, according to Cassandra Renninger, a registered architect and principal at VEBH Architects.

Renninger provided an informational update on the application process at the Hampton Township School Board meeting Sept. 9. VEBH has been working on the preliminary planning and conceptual designs for a high school renovation.

The opportunity is through Act 70, a new law through the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Renninger said. It replaces a former “PlanCon” funding opportunity which the school district prepared to apply for this past July.

Renninger indicated this new law is good news because it is simplified and more straight-forward compared to the former.

“We’re cautiously optimistic with the new system,” Renninger said.

A district undergoing a major school construction project may seek reimbursement from the state in a process known as PlanCon, an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, according to the PDE website. PlanCon is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for Commonwealth reimbursement.

“The Division of School Facilities in the Department of Education reviews proposed school building projects, including their plans and specifications, enrollments, building utilization and building condition. The Division also calculates state reimbursement for qualified school construction projects, and reviews and approves the financing for reimbursable projects,” per its website.

VEBH presented a conceptual design for the high school renovation last school year. The estimated total costs range between $30 million and $45 million, according to Jeff Kline, director of administration and transportation for HTSD.

The high school renovation plan discussed in April and May will require multiple incremental tax increases to Hampton residents for slightly more than three years, including the current year. It’s at 19.38 mills for 2019-20, higher than the 18.95 millage rate in 2018-19. But it is still the seventh lowest millage rate out of Allegheny County’s 42 districts, according to an Allegheny County Intermediate Unit school district budget and real estate tax schedule.

This new PlanCon submission opportunity is expected to be available July 2020, according to Renninger.

She said the application work performed this past year gave them some insight and preparation for the new process when applying next summer. The timing of the potential new PlanCon system rollout and where the Hampton’s renovation phase will be “should dovetail very nicely.”

Renninger, along with HTSD administration, has been in communication with Jim Vogel, a representative of PDE. He indicated there could potentially be a 15% to 18% reimbursement of total cost of the current renovation plans. This estimate is based on the most recent PlanCon. Vogel said he will be available to the district administration as it navigates through the PDE process.

The appropriation of funding is what creates some uncertainty. The money may not be available the first year, but could build up over budget cycles. Or there would be an annual distribution throughout the years, according to Kline.

And all of this depends on what the state’s budget looks like this next year, as well as following years.

Dr. Michael Loughead, superintendent of HTSD, said keeping lines of communication open with the state and local state representatives is important. “There are many other districts in the same situation,” Loughead said.

Loughead agreed all the efforts VEBH was allowed to do to get ready for the application this past July were not wasted, especially since it will prepare them for this next possibility.

“I think it was extremely helpful,” Loughead said.