Montana Administrative Register Notice 8-2-92 No. 13   07/14/2011    
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In the matter of the adoption of New Rule I pertaining to the administration of the 2013 Biennium Quality Schools Grant Program – Planning Grants







TO:  All Concerned Persons


1.  On May 12, 2011, the Department of Commerce published MAR Notice No. 8-2-92 pertaining to the public hearing on the proposed adoption of the above-stated rule at page 708 of the 2011 Montana Administrative Register, Issue Number 9.


2.  The department has adopted the above-stated rule as proposed: New Rule I (8.2.504).


3.  The department has thoroughly considered the comments and testimony received.  A summary of the comments received and the department's responses are as follows:


COMMENT #1:  In reference to the draft guidelines, p. 4, Section C (Preliminary Engineering Reports).  The commenter has a client that desires to study the economics of a ground-source heat pump (GSHP) system for their school, however, such a project appears to fall outside the "types" of projects spelled out in Section C (PER) (i.e., drinking water, waste water, storm water or solid waste).  Such an analysis would be performed by a licensed engineer and is an energy-related project; however, the study would focus on that one area (heating / cooling) versus "historical" energy audits that looked at heating / cooling, lighting, building envelope, other electrical loads and appears to also fall outside the criteria in Section B (School Energy Audit).  Where would such a determination / study fall in the planning grant program?


RESPONSE #1:  The scenario identified by the commenter would be appropriate for a PER and eligible for Quality Schools Planning Grant funding.  The language on p.1, bullet #3 in the final planning guidelines document has been changed to read:  "A Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) for drinking water, wastewater, storm water, solid waste facilities serving school facilities, specific heating or cooling systems, or projects needing in-depth engineering review as determined by the department."


COMMENT #2:  Commenter recommends that the planning grant guidelines include a section specifically for architectural and engineering services to prepare construction documents on conservation measures that have been previously identified in an energy audit.  This will allow schools a means to "get started" with their projects by having construction documents ready to go so that they have bid-ready projects when they submit for emergency funding.  Many schools already have the planning and audits done, they just need the resources to get started; a matching planning grant to put the project on paper says they are serious about the project.  The audits done as part of the Quick Start program are "wasting away" because the schools do not have the resources to implement the identified measures.


RESPONSE #2:  Quality Schools planning grants allow school districts to fund well-researched, thoroughly considered planning activities to guide and inform district and community decisions regarding alternatives for school facility problems and solutions.  Final design documents should not be drafted until a district has the funding in place to move forward with construction.  Accordingly, final design costs are eligible costs for Quality Schools Project Grant funding or other avenues of construction funding may also be pursued for final design, such as a Board of Investments loan or other financial resources listed on our Leveraging & Funding Sources webpage:  http://commerce.mt.gov/QualitySchools/funding.  The department did not revise the Quality Schools planning guidelines to allow for the payment of final design documents.


COMMENT #3:  Can the maximum grant amount be raised for larger school districts?  Can there be a sliding scale based on district/facility size?


RESPONSE #3:  The department has determined, based on extensive experience administering grant programs and administering the first round of Quality Schools planning grants in the 2011 biennium, that the maximum number of districts is served and the greatest amount of local resources leveraged with a $25,000 grant ceiling and a 1:4 match requirement.  Using these limits, the department is able to assist both urban and rural, small and large school districts in the state of Montana.  During the 2011 biennium, the department was able to fund 47 school facility planning projects for a total of $900,000, against which school districts were able to leverage an additional $670,000 in local funds.  The department did not revise the Quality School planning guidelines to change the maximum planning grant amount available for school districts.


COMMENT #4:  Can a district that previously received a Planning Grant reapply for a follow-up grant?  For example, can a district that received planning funds for planning work reapply and get a grant to complete final design documents?


RESPONSE #4:  A district that has been previously awarded a planning grant may apply during the cycle following their award.  Final design documents are not eligible costs for reimbursement with Quality Schools planning grant funds.  (See Response #2.)


COMMENT #5:  The program works well for small schools with the existing dollar limit.


RESPONSE #5:  Thank you for your comment; no response is necessary.


COMMENT #6:  Can schools extend a previous planning project?


RESPONSE #6:  As explained in Section VII of the Quality Schools planning grant guidelines, the term for a Quality Schools planning grant is one year from the date of the Award Letter, or upon final close-out of the planning project by the grantee and the department, whichever is sooner.  The department, in its sole discretion, may grant an extension before the original term is expired if the planning project is near completion but will not fully be completed by the deadline, and the grant recipient can demonstrate a good faith effort to complete the project on time and within the original budget.


COMMENT #7:  How will the scoring work?  Will schools that previously received a Planning Grant be lower on the list than new applicants?


RESPONSE #7:  As explained in Section VI of the Quality Schools planning grant guidelines, Quality Schools planning grant applications will initially be scored based on the statutory priority of the proposed project and the extent to which the project meets the goals and objectives of that priority.  Applications will then be scored based on the statutory attributes as they apply to the applicant and the project.  The receipt of a previous Quality Schools planning grant will not affect the scoring of a district's planning grant application.


COMMENT #8:  Do applicants have to choose only one priority?  How can they stress that they should be higher priority than others?


RESPONSE #8:  Applicants are responsible for identifying which statutory priority best relates to their proposed planning project.  Applicants do not need to stress that they are a "higher" priority than other applicants, but should describe how their project fits into the priority selected for their project, accurately answer all questions on the application, and provide all supplemental information requested with the completed application.  


COMMENT #9:  How will applicants be ranked?  Is there any weight given to how much a district has already invested in a project?


RESPONSE #9:  Please see Response #7.  Several of the statutory attributes relate to and weigh the district's investment in the project:  a district's past efforts to ensure sound, effective, long term planning and management of facilities; the applicant's efforts and ability to obtain and commit matching funding; and the commitment of community support for the project.


/s/  KELLY A. CASILLAS                             /s/  DORE SCHWINDEN    

KELLY A. CASILLAS                                   DORE SCHWINDEN

Rule Reviewer                                               Director

                                                                        Department of Commerce


            Certified to the Secretary of State July 5, 2011.


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