The Ohio School Facilities Commission approved guidelines Thursday for a new grant program created in the budget to help finance charter school buildings. Commission staff described plans for opening applications in the new year and gaining final approval of awards by the end of the fiscal year. 

The biennial budget, HB64 (R. Smith), appropriated $25 million to construct buildings for high quality charter schools, with the state grants financing up to half of the total project costs. 

Jeff Westhoven, chief of facility and program services for the commission, said the guidelines provide high-level details that will be supplemented by further specificity in grant application materials to be presented to the commission for approval in January. 

Under the guidelines, grant applications are to be judged based on three factors: educational, instructional and financial quality. Final awards would be decided by the commission’s executive director and the state superintendent, pending approval of the Controlling Board. 

Westhoven said educational quality would be judged on factors such as creating seats to address unmet community needs or involving outside organizations as partners. Instructional quality would be judged on inclusion of features like technology, flexible work space, and natural lighting and acoustic elements that are associated with improved learning. Analysis of financial quality could be based on factors like an applicant’s financial and operational history and greater share of local funding, Westhoven said. 

Winning applicants would have to ensure the facilities maintain an educational purpose for at least 10 years following construction, he said. 

The commission also approved guidelines for another budget-funded program, the STEM School Facilities Assistance Program. According to Sarah Spence, legislative affairs manager for the commission, the FY14-15 budget created a program for qualifying partnerships to receive up to a 50 percent state share of funding to construct facilities for a STEM program. The latest budget bill then provided funding for partnerships meeting certain eligibility criteria, namely that it include a group of districts in a career-technical education compact that spans two adjacent counties of between 40,000 and 50,000 population, one of which borders a neighboring state. 

At the subsequent meeting of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, planning chief William Ramsey presented findings of a comprehensive assessment and master planning project for state correctional facilities, alongside Jenny Hildebrand, head of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s (DRC) Bureau of Construction, Activation, Maintenance and Sustainability. 

Ramsey said the review and planning process assessed not only the status and future needs for physical facilities, but also those facilities’ alignment with operational and programmatic needs, such as increased demand for medical and mental health programming and the aging inmate population. The average DRC facility dates to 1973, and while many of them are structurally and physically sound, their mechanical, electrical and other systems are nearing the end of their useful life. 

Marion Correctional and Southern Ohio Correctional showed the two highest levels of individual need, both in excess of $90 million. The oldest facilities are not necessarily the most in need of repair or replacement, Ramsey said. 

Across all facilities, heating systems constitute the greatest need, assessed at more than $200 million worth of work, followed by more than $100 million worth of assessed need for plumbing and fixtures.

The next step will be prioritizing projects for capital funding requests. 
“This is a long term plan …. We want to keep thinking about this every year, every two years, because it’s going to continue to change,” Ramsey said. 

“This gets me excited for the DRC capital request due Nov. 16,” said Budget Director Tim Keen. “I have high hopes for this project, and it sounds like a lot of that has come to pass.”
“We need to talk about this project and how it’s going with some of our cabinet colleagues … those that have intensive facility footprints,” Keen said.