Opinion

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Guest Column

Deadline Approaching for New Infrastructure Grant Program

Grant dollars can be used by local governments, tribal governments and school districts for a range of infrastructure projects

Homeowners know that when a leaky roof is spotted, it’s important to act quickly to find and fix the leak. If left unattended, that slow drip overhead can turn into a ceiling that collapses — costing far more to repair and threatening the integrity of the entire home.

The same should be true for our public buildings such as schools, city halls, police stations, and tribal government buildings. But the reality is that many of Montana’s aging public facilities are far behind in keeping up with routine maintenance, and the result in some places is that a slow leak from the ceiling left to fester has turned into an expensive and dangerous situation.

According to the 2018 Infrastructure Report Card for Montana produced by the American Society of Civil Engineers, two-thirds of Montana’s aging public school buildings have pressing structural deficiencies. Nearly 40 percent of those buildings face damaged or worn out ceilings, walls and floors. Nearly 40 percent face deficient heating and cooling systems, and 30 percent of those school buildings have worn out electrical systems, plumbing systems and foundations.

With an average school building age of 53, these are facilities where we expect students to get a 21st century education, but that’s often a challenge when a failing HVAC system means students are so cold in the winter, they simply don’t attend class.

The good news is that Gov. Steve Bullock developed a new infrastructure program, which was supported and passed by the 2019 Legislature, to address these pressing challenges in communities across our state.

Delivering Local Assistance is a $21.5 million grant program meant to invest in critical infrastructure projects targeted for communities and school districts impacted by the growth or decline in natural resource development. Grant dollars can be used by local governments, tribal governments and school districts for a range of infrastructure projects, including water, sewer, bridge, public safety, government administration and school buildings.

We know there is a backlog of critical infrastructure projects in Montana waiting for funding, and Delivering Local Assistance is an additional tool to allow local governments and schools to finally get shovels in the ground to address these needs.

The Montana Department of Commerce stands ready to work with communities and school districts to put these grant dollars to work for Montanans. The deadline to apply for Delivering Local Assistance is Sept. 30, so don’t wait. Learn more at COMDEV.MT.GOV or give us a call at (406) 841-2770.

Tara Rice is the director of the Montana Department of Commerce.