School Building Authority spends $750 million on construction - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

School Building Authority spends $750 million in new school construction

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The West Virginia School Building Authority has spent more than $750 million during the past three years to construct 128 new elementary, middle and high schools across the state.

Mark Manchin, executive director of the SBA, told members of the House Education Committee that 75 percent of West Virginia students attend school in better facilities than what was available in 1990. The $750 million that the state has spent came from lottery and excess lottery funds and pays not only for construction but also safety mechanisms. Manchin said other states should be envious of West Virginia schools.

"Invariably, we always think someone has it better," he said. "We don't have to take a backseat to anyone."

Delegate Brady Paxton, D-Putnam and vice-chairman of the House Education Committee, said the SBA is "on the cutting edge of innovation and green building technology." According to Manchin, many of the state's schools are LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certified.

"Our schools are extremely energy efficient," he said. "If you go in our new schools, you'll see things you won't believe."

But energy efficiency isn't the only thing the SBA focuses on. Student safety is also a top priority. Manchin said many new schools include keyless or manned entries, which means pedestrians can't enter the building. The SBA also entered a $5 million contract with Patriot Services to digitally map all classrooms in West Virginia. This will aid first responders by showing them how the building is laid out and access points where they can reach students. Manchin said many of the students killed at Columbine High School in 1999 were killed after first responders were on the scene. He said with digital maps, first responders could have known how to access the students.

As a result of the contract, Manchin said, "35 counties have now been complete. By the end of next year, all 55 counties will have every single classroom digitally mapped."

The SBA also is conducting vulnerability assessments to gauge school safety and show which schools need safety improvements. For example, Manchin said, Wheeling Park High School has 120 exterior doors.

"How many of us actually give thought to that?" he asked the committee.

Manchin did not ask the committee to appropriate any more money to the committee, but he did point out that the cost of school construction is rising. A new middle schools costs between $15 million and $18 million, while a new high school could cost as much as $50 million. Although the SBA has spent less than half of its appropriated $1.6 billion, it can't necessarily keep up with accelerating costs. In absence of a bond sale, the SBA expects to have $13.4 million available in 2012 and $15.7 million in 2014.

"Things have changed," Manchin said.

The committee also approved a bill that would extend deadlines set forth in last year's Senate Bill 330 regarding higher education. House Bill 4078 is an interim bill that came out of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Higher Education Accountability and extends those deadlines to June or July 2012. Delegate Mary Poling, D-Barbour, who chairs the committee, pointed out that the House bill only extends timelines and does not change policy set forth in the Senate bill. She said because chancellor Brian Noland left the Higher Education Policy Commission, some of the deadlines in the bill "were just not feasible."

An amendment submitted by Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, pushed back the deadline for institutions to fully fund classified employee pay schedules to October 2011. That deadline had been set at October 2010

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