Penni Fishbaine and Amber Concepcion | Survey shows strong support for State College High School building project

July 21, 2013 

The Board of Directors of State College Area School District (SCASD) would like to thank the 1,857 community members who participated in the recent survey on the State High building project. The survey was mailed to 6,751 randomly selected households and the results of the survey provide clear direction for the District and School Board to focus our energy and resources.

We are grateful to our community for its commitment to improving our high school facilities and investing in the education of the next generation. Survey results show that 91% of respondents believe it is important to upgrade these buildings, and that 55% of respondents support investing more than $100 million. We thank you for your permission to proceed with project planning as we work toward a referendum in the spring of 2014. The final decision on the future of State High rests with the voters in this community.

The Board has endorsed a “downselect” process to eliminate proposed building concepts. We began with six concepts developed by our building design team. Concepts that do not exhibit adequate community support (50 percent, plus the margin of error) in the survey results will be eliminated from further consideration.

Board members will continue evaluating the concepts supported by a clear majority of the community. The survey respondents endorsed Concept B (two buildings on either side of Westerly Parkway, with renovations and additions to the current buildings connected by a walkway or bridge); and Concept D (one new/renovated building with core classrooms on the South side of Westerly Parkway, while retaining some portions of the North building) with 70% and 61% support, respectively. These concepts will be further evaluated in the second step of the downselect process.

At the July 22 Board meeting, we will move to eliminate Concept A (two new buildings on Westerly Parkway); Concept C (renovations-only to the current buildings); and Concept F (two new 9-12 schools), because of the very low levels of public support exhibited for these concepts.

We have also placed a motion on the July 22 agenda for the Board to consider eliminating Concept E (a new building on a new site) from further consideration. Concept E received 51 percent support, but after subtracting the margin of error, support for this concept may fall below 49%. In comparison to Concepts B and D, far more respondents (43 percent) expressed opposition to Concept E.

We are recommending that Concept E be removed from further consideration for several reasons. The idea of building a new building at a new location may lack sufficient support to pass a referendum vote. In addition, there are no available tracts of land with the necessary acreage within the regional growth boundary. Each of the three sites under consideration for Concept E are located adjacent to, but not within, the growth boundary. There would be a lengthy process, requiring additional time and resources, to request permission from the Centre Region Council of Governments to build outside the growth boundary. The outcome of this process is highly uncertain. We believe the best way to unite our community around the future of State High is to bring forward only those concepts that have evidence of sufficient public support.

In the second step of the downselect process, the Board will compare the remaining concepts using an evaluation matrix. This matrix is comprised of 55 criteria developed by the Citizens Advisory Committees (CACs) and the Community Engagement Action Team (CEAT) for the State High project. The criteria fall into six categories: Safety and Security, Educational Model, Site and Location, Cost, Constructability, and Sustainability. Board members will assign their own weights to each category and will rate the remaining concepts with information from the building design team. A vote to select a final concept and budget is scheduled for the Board meeting on September 9.

The District has held many community forums and presentations throughout the year regarding the status of the high school buildings and the process underway to address these failing facilities. We will continue this effort over the coming months. SCASD administration will also bring forward their plan for improving the educational model. Community forums are scheduled on Aug. 13 (regarding the remaining building concepts) and Sept. 11 (regarding the educational model). Each of these forums will be held in the High School South auditorium at 7:00 p.m., with a guided tour of the High School facilities departing at 5:30 p.m.

Please visit “State High: The Next Fifty Years” at www.scasd.org/statehighfuture for more in-depth information regarding this project.

Penni Fishbaine and Amber Concepcion are president and vice president, respectively, of the State College Area School District Board of School Directors. Readers may write to them at pennifish@aol.com and concepcion.scasd@gmail.com.

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