State College school board hears updates on State High project design, finances

jvanderk@centredaily.comNovember 12, 2013 

— Lead State High project architect John Beddia told the school board Monday that the option 1 design is no longer viable, appearing to add to the ease of the board’s planned vote on a new high school concept on Dec. 2.

The board heard many updates related to the project, also including current cost estimates and funding scenarios.

Beddia, of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates, offered 3-D images of option 2, which adds a crescent of new construction to the Westerly Parkway side of South Building, and detailed graphics showing the classroom layout on each floor.

He said option 1, which places new construction near Welch Pool, would not support that educational program, and also wouldn’t provide enough parking for after-school activities in the auditorium and related to athletics.

Option 2 adds parking at the back of the South Building, paving spaces within 20 feet of the track. Bus parking will provide another 100 spaces at times students aren’t dropped off or picked up.

Board members have favored option 2 and several members said Beddia’s statement makes the decision easier. Dorothea Stahl said that residents, through C-NET and the media, will also hear and see that, and have time to give feedback if they don’t agree.

“Now it’s out there,” she said. “We don’t even have to decide.”

Beddia also updated the cost estimates for the project, with the total to complete everything at the North and South buildings coming in at about $115.8 million. Current funding scenarios use costs between $109 million and $115 million.

He also showed preliminary estimates for partial completion of the North Building portion of the project.

“It gets dicey when you only eliminate one piece because it affects something else,” he said.

Those options are eliminating access from Logan Avenue on the north side, bringing the total down to just less than $115 million; excluding the Delta program work and some site work, placing the total at $110 million; and completing minimum work on the north side, placing the total at $104 million. The South project would be completed under all scenarios.

Related to cost, Business Administrator Randy Brown presented numerous options for financing the project, using a range of numbers for the project cost, referendum debt and district reserve allocations.

The sampling he presented Monday showed tax increases between 5.76 and 6.72 percent.

Brown offered some information about the referendum, about which he said questions have been raised in the community, including that it will be a separate item on tax bills, should it pass, and that the referendum tax ends when the debt is repaid, after up to 30 years.

The debt also will be phased in over the design and construction period. For example, the district would plan to borrow $10 million the first year and $40 million the second.

“We’re only going to assess the referendum tax based on the amount of debt service we have to pay,” Brown said.

He then gave an example, under one scenario, of how it would impact taxpayers, something board members said should be available during conversations between the district and community.

Under Brown’s example, for the 2014-2015 school year, someone with an average assessed value of $71,300 would pay a total of $72 more in taxes, $47 from the estimated Act 1 tax increase and $25 from the referendum, 0.36 mills to pay the high school debt.

The figures would increase in the following years, as the district borrows more.

While just an example, board members said it would help the community better understand the financial effects.

“We need to show people the tax impact so it’s clear at a glance what they can expect,” said board Vice President Amber Concepcion.

Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said he’s sat and worked through the numbers with residents and noted they want to have that personal interaction, though a calculator is available at the district website, www.scasd.org.

“We have to keep in mind this is a 50-year solution,” said board President Penni Fishbaine. “I look at the fact that, for 50 years, there are a lot of students going through that will be able to benefit from this.”

Also on the high school project, board members discussed and heard updates on when they should decide on the referendum amount, which district programs could move to the North Building, and the project calendar.

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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