Hopeful cities, towns find limits on stimulus cash

Associated Press | 4/22/2009, 6:13 a.m.

The sheer scale and complexity of the stimulus package has added to the confusion.

State officials were at first told there would be no money for the construction of new school buildings — in part because Senate moderates insisted on dropping a proposed school construction program before they would vote for the bill.

But the U.S. Department of Education has since said the law was worded in such a way that the construction of new elementary and high schools is authorized. Some stimulus money can even be spent on private schools, although religious schools aren’t eligible.

Some communities are hoping they can find ways to work around the rules to help chip away indirectly at the costs of new buildings — such as tapping into stimulus dollars intended for renewable energy.

Jim Johnson, interim city administrator of Vernonia, Ore., is appealing for renewable energy stimulus money to help defray the cost of a new school building needed to replace the town’s elementary, middle and high schools, damaged in a 2007 flood.

“We want to make the school one of the greenest schools in the country,” said Johnson, who is hoping to use stimulus money to pay for a green roof for the school. “If you can’t build the whole school, you might be able to build a green component.”

In Barnstable, Mass., officials are looking for $910,000 to help equip a new community and youth center under construction with a wind and solar energy system, while officials in Ashburnham, Mass., hope for $2.3 million to build a new Department of Public Works building, one they said would feature a rooftop solar array and radiant heat floors.

And in Sanford, Maine, Town Manager Mark Green had begun to think he wouldn’t see any stimulus money until he got word the town would receive $87,000 in energy grants. Green said it would help the town make its historic — and drafty — century-old town hall energy efficient.

“We had started doing energy conservation improvements but ran out of money,” he said. “We’re not looking for the federal government to do everything for us … but we do appreciate the money we’ve gotten.”

Mayors and town administrators may also be able to use some of the stimulus dollars to free up other money that they can then direct to projects that don’t directly fall in the stimulus funding stream.

Back in Chesterfield Township, librarian Lusardi isn’t giving up hope of one day expanding her library to the other half of the factory building — or better yet, into a brand-new facility built on federal surplus land.

“People are really struggling here and as the public library we are doing everything we can,” she said. “There is unfortunately a lot of empty factory space here.”

(Associated Press)