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DODEA gets $397 million for improvements at 9 schools in U.S., Europe

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 2, 2011

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Department of Defense Education Activity said Thursday it will receive $397 million in funding for school upgrades this year as a first step toward billions of dollars needed for aging and deteriorating schools around the world.

The federal money will pay to replace or upgrade nine schools in the United States and Europe beginning this year, though the planned replacement of an elementary school in England will be delayed for at least two years due to congressional funding cuts, the agency said.

Most of the 194 schools operated by DODEA in the U.S. and overseas have aged beyond repair and 78 percent are rated in unacceptable physical condition, according to the agency’s own surveys.

Last year, DODEA unveiled a $3.7 billion plan to modernize 134 schools over the next five years, but budget wrangling in Congress delayed its first funding request for months, according to agency spokesman Frank O’Gara.

The funding released this year will cover about 10 percent of needed improvements worldwide. It will pay for new schools in North Carolina, Virginia, Germany, Belgium and Puerto Rico and upgrades to existing schools in Georgia and New York, the 2011 DODEA construction project list shows.

However, Congress reduced the overall military construction budget for this year by 0.2 percent across the board, O’Gara said.

The cut meant the planned replacement of Alconbury Elementary School, which serves Air Force families stationed at Royal Air Force bases in Alconbury, England, got bumped for the year.

“In order to meet the reductions in the approved fiscal year 2011 budget, the decision to defer Alconbury was made in conjunction with [U.S. European Command] and [U.S. Air Forces in Europe],” O’Gara said in an email response to Stars and Stripes.

Due to Congress’ delay in passing this year’s budget, the Alconbury project missed the deadline for being added to the proposed budget for 2012 and now must wait at least two years to be funded, according to O’Gara.

The agency says it plans to request money for schools from Congress each year through 2016 until all substandard schools are modernized.

The military’s construction budget for next year is not yet approved, but DODEA has requested funding to replace six schools in Japan, Italy and Germany, as well as build new schools in Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Virginia, according to documents provided by the agency.

DODEA Acting Director Marilee Fitzgerald told Stars and Stripes in April that the economic recession and deep concerns over the budget in Washington, D.C., have not affected the pricey modernization plan.

“We are moving rapidly to refurbish schools and build new ones,” Fitzgerald said during an interview in Tokyo.

Most DODEA schools were built during the Cold War — some are pre-World War II — and the lack of major upgrades over the years has led to deteriorating roofs, plumbing, electrical wiring, and heating and cooling systems, which are often too costly to replace in a critically aging school.

School officials have repeatedly said the problems are not a safety risk but do mean some schools get by with electrical systems that are inadequate, must open windows for fresh air, and have to live with odorous restrooms.

trittent@pstripes.osd.mil

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