The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) Thursday approved funding for 26 school districts to begin construction projects in FY13 contingent on those districts’ meeting their local share of funding.

The approval also included funding for the first STEM school in the state, the Dayton Regional STEM School. It is the first school to focus on science, technology, engineering and math that is not a part of a school district to receive OSFC funding.

OSFC Executive Director Richard Hickman called the Dayton Regional STEM School a “unique project” that is taking advantage of an empty Value City store. He said the school has already obtained funding to renovate part of the building and has begun classes there, and Thursday’s funding will go towards renovating more of the building.

In total, OSFC approved more than $1.1 billion in construction work and will be matched by more than $622 million in local funding. The amount approved for the fiscal year is more than double the amount spent by the commission last year. Hickman attributed the extra funding to the General Assembly’s being more generous in the most recent capital bill as well as other factors.

The average state share of the 27 projects is 43.8 percent and includes seven segmented projects that take advantage of recent law changes to reduce the minimum local share. The construction will include 43 new buildings and nine renovations of current buildings, and will lead to 83 current buildings’ being taken out of service. Of those, 81 will be demolished, and OSFC staff said the other two will be utilized by Swanton Local School District as administrative offices and for other uses.

Ohio Department of Administrative Services Director Bob Blair, a member of the OSFC, asked if the commission is close to moving from new construction projects to maintenance on projects built since the OSFC was formed.

Hickman responded that maintenance is always concern, but added there is still much work to be done on the backlog of school districts needing funding. He said an evaluation conducted a year ago found that there are still more than 300 school districts OSFC has yet to serve. He said if they fund 25 districts every year and all 25 secure local funding, it will take until 2025 to have reached every district.

“There is a significant amount of work to do,” Hickman told members of the commission. “That’s why we’re pleased with the support of this administration in terms of providing capital funding.”

Hickman also told the commission that the staff plans to come back in January and make mid-year recommendations on funding for districts to keep the program building. That funding will come from money already approved for districts that could not meet their local share in this fiscal year and are not likely to secure local funding soon.

After the meeting, Hickman said the commission did something similar last January when a district that had previously lapsed in terms of securing local funding was able to finally do so. Rather than force that district to wait until it came up again, the commission was able move funding to bring the district up the list.

He said there has been a concern that funds will be tied up waiting for districts to get funding rather than continuing construction. Noting the number of districts that need funding, he said it is the commission’s intent to move forward with building projects.

Projects that could be moved up the list include those for districts with lapsed funding, districts that have exceptional needs and secure local funding before they are eligible for OSFC funds, or districts that are authorized by the General Assembly, Hickman said. He cited a college preparatory boarding school in Cincinnati as one example, noting that it would have likely received funding in this round but details were still being worked out.

The commission also approved the “Next 10” list of districts that will be eligible for funding next year. David Chovan of OSFC said that because lapsed districts go to the head of the list, the list is the same as last year as those districts have not yet secured local funding.