EMERGENCY SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION ‑- LEGALITY OF ALLOCATION FROM EMERGENCY FUNDS TO PROVIDE FACILITIES FOR ANTICIPATED FUTURE NEEDS.
Allocation of emergency school funds to provide facilities adequate to take care of anticipated future needs of the district are legal only if it would appear improvident to provide for a less costly installation at this time.
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May 7, 1954
Honorable Pearl A. Wanamaker
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Old Capitol Building
Olympia, Washington Cite as: AGO 53-55 No. 254
Attention: Mr. G. W. Van Horn
Dear Mrs. Wanamaker:
We have your letter of April 26, 1954, in which you ask our opinion on a question pertaining to the emergency school construction fund. From the factual situation presented, we restate your interrogatory as follows:
May the School Emergency Construction Commission authorize for a school district the construction of a heating plant, septic tank and sewage disposal system of sufficient capacity to accommodate anticipated future needs?
In our opinion your question may be answered in the affirmative.
One of the many problems confronting the 1953 legislature was the obvious inadequacy of school plant facilities in many districts of the state. School population was rising at a rate far in excess of the capabilities of some districts to adequately house the pupils. Mounting construction costs could not [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] be financed within the constitutional debt limitations. Temporary classrooms and staggered instruction periods were used by many districts as temporary expedients to cope with this crisis.
Chapter 7, Laws of 1953, ex. sess., provides for emergency school construction, the issuance of bonds by the State Finance Committee, and sets up the School Emergency Construction Commission. The statute prescribes certain statutory criteria for eligibility of school districts to participate in allocations from the emergency funds, but places the responsibility for determining emergency and priority of allocations upon the commission. Once the commission determines that a specific district is eligible to receive an allocation from these funds, the statute is silent upon the amount each district is entitled to receive.
Sections 8 and 9 of the act are helpful, but not definitive, in ascertaining the legislative intent. These sections provide that allocations shall be made on an emergency basis, that the commission should consider the acuteness of overcrowding, the sudden growth in attendance, the assessed valuation per pupil, the financial health of the district, and other factors.
It appears that the phrase determinative of this question is contained in section 9 of the act, providing as follows:
"Of the funds provided by this chapter, the school emergency construction commission shall, through the state board of education, make allotmentsfor needed school construction only, to school districts qualifying under this chapter. * * *" (Emphasis supplied)
We believe that the phrase "needed school construction" must be given a practical construction as applied to the facts of individual applications.
Let us assume a school district is eligible for funds to assist in construction of a central heating plant and sewage disposal system, which can be constructed for a sum which will require a forty thousand dollar allotment from the emergency fund. This facility will be adequate to supply the needs of the present school population and no more. A school population survey shows it to be a virtual certainty that within five years these facilities will be inadequate. The school buildings are designed so that they can be expanded to accommodate [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] an increased pupil population. These additional classrooms can be served by the central heating and sewage systems. The normal life span of such facilities is twenty years. It is not feasible to install auxiliary heating and sewage facilities on a piecemeal basis. Adequate facilities could be installed now for a one‑third greater cost. Under these hypothetical facts, we believe the legislature would consider the additional expenditure within the meaning of "needed construction."
We do not believe it would be legal, however, to allocate monies from the emergency construction fund for a deferred construction program.
We conclude that allocations may be made only under circumstances where it is presently necessary to construct a new facility, but it appears improvident or economically unsound to provide a small installation at the present time.
We hope these comments will prove helpful.
Very truly yours,
Assistant Attorney General