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well beyond design. What does this mean? At Studio W Architects, it means more than architecture in the traditional sense, it means assisting our clients with procuring funding, running community meetings and many other activities and services that benefit their projects, beyond drawings and specifications. It involves taking our experiences in procuring State Facility Hardship funding and assisting our current and future clients with capturing funds to repair or replace facilities plagued by imminent health and safety threats or facilities that have been lost to natural disasters.

The expectation is that our schools will be safe environments in which our children can learn and grow. When issues arise that force building closures, many districts struggle with how to secure the funds needed to restore damaged classrooms and support facilities that are needed to operate their schools. When the unexpected happens, as architects and design professionals, we need to “roll with the punches” and get things done.

Early in my career, I was working on one of my first school construction projects, largely on my own, when the contractor called to inform me they found termite and water damage on the multipurpose building we were modernizing. The extent of the damage I witnessed at my next site visit was abhorrent – the level at which I haven’t seen since this first experience. At was at this point that I became well versed in the State Facility Hardship funding program to assist the District in repairing their facilities.


What happened next was an eight-month journey to acquire State Facility Hardship funding. The requirements of which are deceptively simple:

  1. Have a critical need for pupil housing due to a health or safety threat, or facilities that have been lost to natural disaster (i.e. fire, flood, earthquake, etc).
  2. Obtain a report from an industry specialist and obtain concurrence (approvals) from the Division of the State Architect (DSA).
  3. Prepare a site diagram identifying the buildings – age, square footage and spaces.
  4. Obtain an approval letter from the California Department of Education (CDE).
  5. Procure a cost estimate/cost benefit analysis that determines if repair or replacement of the facility is necessary.

Once these items have been obtained, the District can request the funds through application to the Office of Public School Construction (OPSC). Within 120 days of a completed application, the District should be on a State Allocation Board (SAB) meeting agenda for approval of funds.

Deceptively simple, right?!? In actuality, the process takes time because the requirements take time. Completing a report includes site visits and the potential for exploratory demolition to determine the extent of damage. It includes mitigation measures and drawings that go with those mitigation measures, which the design professional needs time to complete. Approval at DSA requires scheduling, review time and comments that need to be resolved prior to approvals. These items combine to create a process that takes months and can cause frustration and annoyance, but ultimately resolves unsafe or harmful school facilities.

Some important items to note to maximize funding:

  • Document the Damage. If the facility’s damage has not been documented, there is no way to fund the replacement of those items at OPSC. Obtaining as-builts, DSA-approved documents, photos (lots of photos!) that document the facility prior to damage is so important.
  • Be Clear & Specific. When the design professional is documenting the mitigation measures, including any additional demolition, make sure the notes are specific (as opposed to general comments), so funding can be obtained for those items. For example: A comment that states demolish all fire alarm work for replacement is not sufficient. Instead, show the devices and label the wiring to be removed. This allows OPSC to be able to price the work.


In my 20 years of experience, I have worked with four districts on their Facility Hardship projects – from water and termite damage to structural damage caused by HVAC units added with DSA approval. The most devastating and recent case is helping Paradise Unified School District to recover from the 2018 Camp Fire. Featured herein is Ponderosa Elementary School, where we are renovating the campus from damage caused by the fire and adding a replacement facility – a new multipurpose and administration building.

Studio W Architects is modernizing or reconstructing every site in the District. Each project is different, and each project is unique. Facility hardships are a rarity, a situation that no district should have to go through, but with the help of experienced design professionals, a district’s individual situation can be resolved.

Funding from SAB depends on the type of Facility Hardship determined. Repair of facilities is considered a modernization with a 60/40 State and District funding split. For a replacement project, it is considered new construction with the funding being a 50/50 split between the State and District. If the District has Facility Hardship status, as in the first example I described, the full amount of the funding comes from the State.


Given the hoops one is required to jump through to get funding to repair damaged facilities, construction would seem like the easy part of the process. For me, what started as one of my first largely solo construction projects ended a year after the anticipated completion date but made a significant impact to a Financial Hardship District who had waited a long time to be able to complete a modernization project, much less a facility hardship project.

I have worked with some wonderful school districts through the years. My second facility hardship project was for my old high school. Being invested in the outcome makes it all the sweeter to be able to say their facility is now safe for students and staff. Paradise Unified School District is still experiencing their facility hardship journey and Studio W Architects and I will be there as their partner every step of the way.


Blog post authored by Brie Gargano, Client Leader & Associate