The Northern Marianas Housing Corp. has until 2016 to spend some $1.3 million worth of Community Development Block Grant funding to build a new middle school-or at the very least a “usable facility”-for the Public School System or else pay back the full amount to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“We have four more years after July this year to build something and start using the facility,” board chair Marcie M. Tomokane said during Thursday's board meeting.
Several HUD officials were on island last week to meet with NMHC board and staff, including field director Mark Chandler of the Hawaii office, who suggested that they build a gymnasium that the students at Koblerville Elementary School and Saipan Southern High School can use while the actual classroom buildings are being built.
“At least, it meets the lease agreement and it also would meet [HUD's] requirement,” Tomokane told the board.
NMHC has already committed $659,490 in CDBG funding for program year 2011 to the middle school that will be built in Koblerville. The agency also committed the amount of $634,791 for 2012, also for the same project.
Discussions on the CDBG-funded middle school project surfaced after planner and grant writer Jeannie Mafnas reported that they already received the cost estimate for the project, a month after they requested it from PSS.
The cost estimate, including the design, was submitted at 12:30pm last Thursday by the architecture firm Taniguchi Ruth Makio Architects, the same firm that designed Kagman's Chacha Oceanview Jr. High School, after which the new school's plan will be patterned.
The proposed middle school seeks to solve the student overcrowding currently facing Hopwood Jr. High School in Chalan Piao.
Based on the submitted cost estimate and available funding, Mafnas noted that they will be able to fund the A&E and construction not only of a two-story block with toilets but also the parking lot.
Mafnas said there would be a total of 16 classrooms or eight classrooms for each block, which would accommodate about 50 percent or some 600 students from Hopwood Jr. High School.
The entire project, according to Mafnas, would amount to about $1.2 million “and our grants for two years will be able to fund that.”
Despite the availability of cost estimate and plan, board member Tom Glenn Quitugua argued that other issues concerning the project have yet to be addressed by PSS, whose board and staff have yet to accommodate NMHC's request for a meeting.
According to Quitugua, even if the new school is built, it may still not be used if PSS won't be able to address student transportation, furniture and equipment, or even hiring of new teachers-all of which would be critical in having the new school used.
“We came up with the numbers but the [NMHC] board hasn't seen a commitment from PSS,” he said.
While Quitugua recommended other potential PSS projects where the CDBG funding could be used such as building another wing for an existing school, Tomokane stressed that the grant was approved for the new middle school project.
Quitugua, one of the Rota representatives to the NMHC board, also reminded the board that there are other community projects not only on Saipan but also on Tinian and Rota that could benefit from the CDBG monies.
The board, through Tomokane, instructed Mafnas and acting corporate director Jesse Palacios to arrange a meeting between NMHC and PSS one last time. If unsuccessful, the housing agency will ask Gov. Benigno R. Fitial to make it possible.
“The clock is ticking and it's ticking very fast,” said Tomokane. “We need to address this issue. We cannot continue and sit back and wait until they plan to meet with us. .We need to do something first to address this because honestly, we don't have the money to pay HUD back.”
The board also gave Mafnas the go-signal to incorporate the proposed middle school project in the NMHC action plan for program year 2012.