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Frequently Asked Questions - Reimbursable Projects

What types of school construction projects are eligible for reimbursement from the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth provides reimbursement for school districts for the construction of new schools, additions to existing schools, and/or renovations or alterations to existing schools to meet current educational and construction standards. A condition of reimbursement is to bring the entire building up to current educational standards and reasonably current construction standards.

Can work on maintenance buildings, bus garages, athletic stadiums or other non-instructional facilities qualify for school construction reimbursement?

No. Only work on schools and district administration offices may qualify for state funding.

There are a lot of different terms used in referring to work on an existing building. Is reimbursement different for a building that is "altered," "renovated," "reconstructed," or "modernized?"

No. The Department makes no distinction.

Who determines "current standards"?

The local board of directors determines "current standards" in light of code requirements (federal, state and local) and the district's educational program.

What other factors are used to determine eligibility for funding for a renovation or alteration project besides the board's determination to bring the existing building up to current standards?

The determination of whether a renovation or alteration project is reimbursable is based on a mathematical calculation of replacement value, as per Basic Education Circular (BEC) 24 P.S. § 7-733.

Is it true that the State favors new construction over renovations of existing buildings?

No. 80% of school construction projects that are reimbursed by the Commonwealth involve work on existing buildings.

What type of project receives greater reimbursement from the State - renovations or new construction?

The Commonwealth provides the same level of base reimbursement for renovations or alterations as for new buildings. Based on the provisions of Act 46 of 2005, additional funding is available for certain types of projects. However, because renovations or alterations to an existing building are usually less expensive than new construction, the proportion of reimbursement generally is still usually greater for work on existing buildings than for new buildings.

How much money is spent on school construction each year?

School districts and the Commonwealth commit more than one billion dollars per year to school construction.

What is the level of state funding this year?

The current state appropriation equals approximately $330 million for FY 2009-2010.

Under what circumstances may the Department disapprove a school construction project?
State regulations require the Department of Education to approve projects so long as they comply with applicable laws, regulations and standards.  

How does a school district apply for school construction reimbursement?

PlanCon, an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for Commonwealth reimbursement. The forms are designed to: (1) document a local school district's planning process; (2) provide justification for a project to the public; (3) ascertain compliance with state laws, regulations and standards; and (4) establish the level of state participation in the cost of the project.

How many parts are there to the PlanCon process?

There are 11 parts to PlanCon. See Description of PlanCon for information on the individual parts.

Must a school district work through only one part of the Plancon process at a time?

No. Districts may work on different parts simultaneously. However, the PlanCon parts must be approved by the local school board and submitted in sequential order for all second, third and fourth class districts unless indicated otherwise in the PlanCon General Instructions (PDF).

How is reimbursement calculated?

In general, reimbursement for school construction projects is based on the capacity of a building, which can be justified by present or projected student enrollment. Classroom capacity is normally calculated on the basis of 25 students per regular classroom (other values are assigned to laboratories, gymnasiums, art rooms, music rooms, etc.). For example, if a district has a twenty classroom elementary building, we would normally consider the building to have a full-time equivalent capacity of 500 (20 x 25). The capacity in this example would have to be supported by current or projected enrollment. This capacity is then converted to rated pupil capacity. The term "rated pupil capacity" has no significance other than this is a method for calculating reimbursement. An elementary building with a full-time equivalent capacity of 500 is deemed to have a "rated pupil capacity" of 700 (conversion charts are available upon request). Reimbursement then is calculated on the lesser of (1) the product of the rated pupil capacity multiplied by a legislated per pupil dollar amount (24 P.S. Section 25-2574), or (2) structure costs plus architect's fee (maximum six percent) and essential movable fixtures and equipment. To the lesser of (1) or (2) above, additional funding for certain types of projects and specified eligible ancillary costs are added. The reimbursable project amount is then divided by the total project costs to determine a reimbursable percentage. A one-half percentage point reduction in the reimbursable percentage is made until Plancon Part J, Project Accounting Based on Final Costs, for the project is reviewed and approved by the Department. This percent is multiplied by the school district's bond issue (principal and interest payments) to determine the level of Commonwealth participation in the cost of the project. The Commonwealth's share is then multiplied by a measure of a district's wealth, i.e., Market Value Aid Ratio (MVAR) or Capital Account Reimbursement Fraction (CARF), (or in some cases, a "Density Factor" of 50 percent) whichever is greater to determine the net state subsidy. Click on detailed examples to link to reimbursement examples for a new elementary school and additions and alterations to an existing high school.

Is there an average (or median) reimbursable percent?

No. An average or a median reimbursable percent is not published since each project building stands on its own and the factors affecting the calculation of the reimbursable percent may greatly vary from one project to another.

When does reimbursement start for a project?

Reimbursement starts after the project has been bid, and the bids and project financing have been approved by the Department.

Who needs to be present at the architectural reviews for PlanCon Parts B, E and F?

The architect and a district administrator who is knowledgeable about the project and the educational program must be present at the architectural review conferences.

Can board members and interested citizens attend the architectural reviews?

Board members are welcome to attend. However, citizens may only attend if invited by the school district.

How far in advance must a district schedule the architectural reviews for a PlanCon project?

Usually, reviews can be scheduled within two weeks of calling for an appointment. The one exception would be during the spring when many districts are trying to schedule reviews and bid projects so that construction can start in May or June. Division staff will work with districts and their architects to meet design and construction timelines without any adverse impact.

Is there a recommended square footage per student in a classroom?

22 Pa. Code 349.5 establishes the standards for building space allocation for elementary and secondary schools. For an elementary school, the space allocated should approximate 58 square feet for each student in approved full-time equivalent project enrollment. For a secondary school, the space allocated should approximate 78 square feet for each full-time equivalent student. A departure of 10% or more from these standards requires justification for any reimbursable project approved by the Department. To receive reimbursable capacity under current Departmental procedures, classrooms must be 660 square feet or larger, industrial arts shops and tech ed rooms must be at least 1,800 square feet, auxiliary gyms must be 2,500 square feet or larger, and full-size gyms must be at least 6,500 square feet.

Is there a minimum or maximum number of acres recommended for a school site?

No. The PDE acreage allowances are used solely to calculate state reimbursement for any property to be acquired as part of a PlanCon project. The actual amount of land needed to support a district's educational and athletic programs, as well as the local community, must be determined by the local school board.