Delta Program set to expand, State College Area School District hopes to attract students from charter schools

mmorgan@centredaily.comJanuary 27, 2014 

— The Delta Program in the State College Area School District will have a more defined middle level experience starting next year.

The school board unanimously approved a proposal at its regular meeting Monday that would expand the program to fifth- and sixth-grade students. The change will be in place starting in the fall 2014 school year.

This expansion would allow for mentoring experiences for the younger students, and the district is hoping that it draws some students back from the local brick and mortar charter schools.

Board member Laurel Zydney said the charter schools offer valuable services with the smaller classes sizes and learning techniques, so it makes sense to move that into the district’s offerings.

“I think these great ideas should become more broadly available by having them in the traditional system,” she said.

The Delta Program, currently offered to seventh- through 12th-grade students, allows for more internship opportunities, smaller class sizes and open up chances for Penn State and independent learning courses.

The program began in 1974, and is currently capped at 200 students. The middle level program would be capped at 80 students to start.

It is currently housed in the Fairmount Building, but the plan is to move it to the north side of the Westerly Parkway campus if the May high school project referendum is successful.

But some charter school administrators are not concerned that the expanded program will draw students away.

Mark Toci, Centre Learning Community Charter School lead teacher, said the charter schools still provide unique services that the district can’t replicate.

He said more competition and choice is a good thing, but he thinks the district’s move might be made for monetary reasons instead of educational ones.

“If the goal is to pull kids from one place to another, it’s misguided,” he said in a phone interview Monday.

It’s also not a worry for Nittany Valley Charter School CEO Kara Martin.

She doesn’t expect parents with children currently enrolled in that charter school to move to Delta or any other opportunity. In conversations with parents, she said she’s heard encouraging words for the future enrollment of the school.

Another source of criticism from some community members has been that the educational model for the new program is not completely developed.

Delta Director Jon Downs said they don’t want to set anything in stone before getting more feedback from students, parents and faculty. He said one of the beauties of Delta is the integration of outside ideas into the curriculum.

Updated cost estimates

The board also got updated cost estimates for the high school project from Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates and Alexander Building Construction.

Crabtree architect John Beddia said that at this stage of the planning process he is comfortable with a cost estimate just under the project cap of $115 million. That estimate allocates about $100 million for the South Building and a little less than $15 million for the North Building.

He said the educational requirements and the schematic design haven’t changed much, so he didn’t expect much diversion in the estimate from the last one.

“We weren’t terribly surprised at that, going through that level of detail, because the program hasn’t changed,” he said.

Beddia and his team looked through some recent similar projects to try to establish a cost per square foot estimate.

The Alexander team came in a little higher than the project ceiling, but General Manager Chris Magnet expects the number to come down as more design work is done. Their estimate came in at about $118 million.

“It’s really encouraging to see numbers this tight together,” he said.

The renovation and site work costs were the most significant differences, but Magnet doesn’t expect it to be an issue when more details come out.

The board is not expected to raise the $115 million project cap number. It has also set the referendum amount capped at $85 million, and the administration is recommending a finalization of that number at the Feb. 10 meeting.

College Heights School

District officials also provided more details about the potential College Heights School sale to Penn State. The university has expressed interest to purchase the school and turn it into a new home for the Penn State Press.

Penn State offered $400,000 for the property which falls in line with the 2012 appraisal of the property which is the most recent, according to a news release. That number is lower than the 1995 market assessed value of $1,263,000, but the value has decrease since that time because of the condition of the building, the release stated.

State College has first right of refusal, and Borough Council is expected to discuss the possibility but not make a final decision at its Feb. 3 meeting. It has until July 17 to decide if it wants the property.

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

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