State College weighs school building options — and price tags

mdawson@centredaily.comMarch 1, 2013 

— State College Area school officials told about 130 people Thursday about the building options and initial cost estimates during a community forum on the high school renovation project.

The information presented consisted of breakdowns of the eight scenarios plus explanations of the costs to finance the project.

The costs for the all but one of the options exceed $110 million. The one under triple digits is a renovation of the existing buildings, and that cost is estimated around $65 million to $68 million.

The board has not yet selected an option, board President Penni Fishbaine said, and the board will have to seek voter approval to finance the cost of the project because it will exceed the state-set maximum the district can raise property taxes.

An option for two separate, smaller high schools remains on the table, but is the most expensive of the eight options. The district promised to flesh out details about a two-high school option after residents showed interest in it during January’s community forum.

The district has hired the architectural firm Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates to do the design work, and architect John Beddia presented the eight options.

Option A is a replacement of both North and South Buildings. Estimate: $136 million to $143 million.

Option B calls for additions and renovations to both buildings, including a pedestrian bridge between the buildings over Westerly Parkway. Estimate $112 million to $118 million.

Option C provides for only renovations to bring the buildings up to current construction standards, without any additions. Estimate: $65 million to $68 million.

Option D1 would be a new building housing grades nine to 12 on the South site. Both North and South buildings would be demolished. Estimate: $115 million to $121 million.

Option D2 has a substantial addition and renovation to the South Building. Renovate athletic facilities in North Building. $112 million to $117 million.

Option D3 is a new building on the South site and demolishing most of the North Building. Estimate $121 million to $127 million.

Option E is a new building on a new site. Estimate: $121 million to $127 million.

Option F is two new high schools, estimated between $154 million to $162 million.

Randy Brown, the district’s business administrator, said the district is considering a few scenarios for financing the project. The term of the loan could be 20, 25 or 30 years.

If the district borrowed $100 million over 30 years, the average taxpayer would see an additional $169 on their tax bills for the life of the loan.

Resident Ken Walsh said a strict renovation, Option C, is the only scenario that is not “fraught with risk.”

“We no longer live in a school district where the board can say, ‘We will build it, and they will pay,’” said Walsh, who encouraged school officials to distinguish educational needs from educational or social wants.

One of the attendees questioned how people on fixed incomes could afford a tax increase associated with the project.

Superintendent Robert O’Donnell said an “easy answer” to that issue is tough, and school officials continue to invest a lot of time and energy into searching for the solution.

“Cost could be the factor that prevents this from moving forward,” O’Donnell said.

State College resident Anna Childe came to the forum to learn more about the project because she has a daughter in the district, in fourth grade at Corl Street Elementary School.

Childe said she hopes the school remains on the Westerly Parkway campus, although she likes the idea of two smaller high schools.

She said the dollar figures need to be contextualized more and she hopes the district offers community dialogue sessions similar to what was done during the master planning process in 2009.

“I’m glad they’re talking, and I look forward to more comments from the community,” Childe said.

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