The Colorado Department of Education continues to develop and refine the program that was Established in 2008 with the signing of HB08-1335, BEST provides an annual amount of funding, in the form of competitive grants, to school districts, charter schools, institute charter schools, boards of cooperative educational services and the Colorado school for the deaf and the blind. BEST funds can be used for the construction of new schools as well as general construction and renovation of existing school facility systems and structures. The program is celebrating some successes and working through unique challenges. Wember Inc. attended the January 26, 2010 Board Meeting along with many others from the design and construction industry.

The meeting was standing room only with the board members and BEST staff compressed in the center of the room. The meeting began with typical housekeeping and then went into of the North Routt Community Charter School project which was awarded $3.1 million to help fund the new school in Clark. The awarded funds would cover 65 percent of the $4.8 million total project cost. The BEST program required that NRCCS come up with a matching amount of 35% for the proposed 12,200sf school.

The school began their presentation with Colleen Poole, Director, acknowledging that they were on the ropes as they were short on matching funds but still hoping to break ground in March, they believed they had a solution. Her team presented a Power Point of their current facility with images of students gathering in yurts buried in the snow and a residential kitchen overwhelmed by a lunch program. The presentation went on to address the situation of matching funds with the school currently receiving donated land, $500,000 from a state Department of Local Affairs, $200,000 grant from the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation, and $60,000 from donations among other funds. As the school did not meet the requirement for the matching funds they procured a line of credit to close the balance. The board raised many points including that Denver’s Legal department would not approve this particular line of credit as it is in direct violation of Tabor. They also stated that land donation did not apply to the matching funds, and suggested that the DOLA grant would not count as it is not cash in hand as it too is a matching fund. After an emotional discussion from the board and the BEST Capital Construction Assistance team the board voted unanimously to withdraw their recommendation for the NRCCS new school BEST Lease-Purchase Grant. The Mapleton School also suffered the same fate as their bond failed to pass this fall.

The lesson learned from this meeting was when applying for a grant you must be sure you understand all that is required of you in order to meet the guidelines set forth by the BEST program and make sure you have allotted ample time to accomplish those requirements. If required to have all the matching funds available by a particular time, then you must have cash in-hand, not just pledges. It is great that you have people who have pledged donations, but you need to have the actual cash in-hand for them to count. Also, you need to check the requirements of the other grants you may be receiving. They may also require matching donation and may also have limitations on where those donations come from.

The meeting went on to discuss the ranking of projects and how they are working to prioritize projects by health and life safety. Wember Inc. will discuss this in our next blog in this series.