Surveys results: State College residents favor renovating current high school buildings

mmorgan@centredaily.comJuly 15, 2013 

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    View the survey results at the district’s website, www.scasd.org.

— The numbers are in, and three State College Area High School options have received at least 50 percent community support from a districtwide survey.

Concept B, additions and renovations to both the North and South buildings with a walkway connecting the two, received 70 percent support, while concept D, renovating the South Building and moving all classes there, while still using the North Building for student needs, received 61 percent support. Concept E, construction of a new school at a new site, amassed 51 percent support, according to survey results released Monday afternoon. The margin of error is 2.4 percent.

Concepts A, C and F did not receive the required majority support to move forward.

In total, 6,751 surveys were mailed to households throughout the school district, and 1,857 were returned. The survey company, Social Science Research Solutions, weighted the results to form a representative sample of the voting population.

“This is a very good response rate for address-based designs,” said David Dutwin, SSRS executive vice president and chief methodologist. He added that formula is a relatively new process but has become more necessary as people get rid of landlines.

About 99 percent of surveys are weighted to attempt to capture a good representation of the full population, he said.

Due to the large student population, SSRS also undersampled high Penn State student areas by a large margin because many aren’t registered voters in the borough and left the area before the surveys were mailed.

More than half the residents, who had sufficient information, said they would support investing at least $110 million for the project, with 25 percent of residents willing to invest at least $120 million. Cost estimates from the viable concepts range from $109 million to $125 million.

There was some uncertainty from the board regarding where the price tag should fall based on the survey results.

Board member Dorothea Stahl said the education specification for the new school will play into how much people will be willing to pay.

“The ed spec is vital to this because it gives you what you are paying for,” she said.

Trying to line up how much the community is willing to take on in tax increases against the total investment, board member Jim Pawelczyk said the “sweet spot” could be somewhere in the high $90 million range.

That is a stark change from the last time State College talked about a new high school and got results in the $70 million range.

“This shows just a tremendous community interest in investing in this project to make it happen,” Pawelczyk said. “We should be very excited about this as a board.”

About 8 percent of respondents said they didn’t have enough information to answer the cost question, but Dutwin said that portion is not likely to swing the numbers by a large margin.

Though cost is one of the most important factors for residents, student safety and security was voted the most important issue among the survey participants.

The board is expected to eliminate all concepts except B, D and E at its July 22 meeting.

Going forward, the viable concepts will be put through a weighted evaluation matrix to come up with a final choice to go forward to a May 2014 referendum.

The goal is to have one concept remaining and an established budget after the board’s Sept. 9 meeting.

Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan.

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