By Chris Selle
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | As mentioned in my previous newspaper column, two separate studies have determined Meeker High School is in need of millions of dollars worth of work. While some renovation options have been considered, these options would invest millions into a building nearing the end of its useful life and the renovation options would not address all the deficiencies present in the high school. Therefore, because we believe our students deserve an educational facility better than our current facility, the school district has decided to apply for a BEST grant.
BEST stands for Building Excellent Schools Today, and it is a capital construction competitive grant program established in 2008. The funds for BEST grants are generated primarily from State Land Trust funds, but also bolstered somewhat by marijuana excise tax and Colorado Lottery spillover funds. BEST grants are broken into three main categories: cash grants, lease-purchase grants, and emergency grants. Cash grants are utilized to fund smaller projects, such as roof replacement, boiler replacement, etc… Lease-purchase grants are typically used to fund larger projects, such as new schools, major renovations and additions. BEST emergency grants are used for an unanticipated event rendering a significant portion of a building unusable for educational purposes.
BEST grants require a matching portion from the school district. A formula is used to calculate the match on a district-by-district basis, which currently calculated that the Meeker School District would need to provide 70 percent of the funding for a BEST project. BEST provides a process for school districts to submit a waiver and have their matching percentage adjusted. While there is no guarantee districts will receive the waiver, the Meeker School District intends to submit a waiver in an effort to reduce the school district’s matching portion.
The match can be provided through a number of methods. For cash grants, districts may often use funds in their capital reserve account or from the reserves in their general fund. Because the projects are much larger in scope, lease-purchase grants generally require a bond election. The grant we are submitting falls into the lease-purchase category, and thus, would require a matching bond election. We should know by the middle of May if we will receive a grant, and the subsequent bond election would occur in November if our grant application is successful.
BEST has a limited amount of funds with which they can award grants. The number of schools submitting grants and the amount of money BEST has available to award will impact whether or not we are awarded a grant. Failure to receive a grant does not mean our project is not worthy. As previously mentioned, millions of dollars still need to be invested for renovation and/or replacement of Meeker High School. Unfortunately, BEST simply does not have enough funds to meet the all the public school capital construction needs in the state.
As of right now, applying for a BEST grant is the only decision the school district has made. Submitting this application in the current grant cycle was determined to be a priority as the funds available for lease-purchase grants will be significantly limited, if not eliminated, in the foreseeable future. If our grant application is successful, we will then engage in discussions about a bond election. If we do not receive a BEST grant, we will still need to engage in a bond election at some point in the next few years. The needs associated with the high school and bus garage are significant and remain in place, regardless of the outcome of the BEST grant application.
Chris Selle is the superintendent for the Meeker School District.