Big Cost to Fixing Up Colorado Schools? Time to Think Outside the Box

Ed News Colorado reports from yesterday’s State Board meeting about the state of school buildings:

Colorado schools have $17.8 billion in maintenance and renovation needs over the next eight years, according to a statewide schools facilities study released Wednesday.

The study, required as part of the 2008 Building Excellent Schools Today law, was the first-ever comprehensive structural review of 8,419 buildings, from large classroom buildings to sheds.

The $17.8 billion estimate covers only what the study calls Tier I buildings – basically those used for instruction.

The study found those buildings need $9.4 billion of deferred maintenance work between now and 2013. An additional $13.9 billion is needed for energy and educational suitability projects. A final $3.9 billion in work is estimated to be necessary from 2014-18.

That’s a gigantic cost. There isn’t much talk out there about how in the world it all could be paid for over the next several years. I haven’t taken time to look at how the costs were determined, but I’m guessing the Statewide Facility Assessment looked at conventional financing arrangements.

Colorado may never get all these capital needs met, but if we’re serious about it, we can accomplish more by thinking outside the box. I would recommend state leaders start by looking at some ideas my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow brought forward in an op-ed he wrote last fall about the school shortage in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood — particularly, public-private leasing arrangements and/or contract schooling.

It’s going to take creative leadership on many levels for Colorado to address financial shortages. I hope the Capital Construction Assistance Board is taking a look at these outside-the-box ideas and how they can be promoted at the local and state level.