Decision on College Heights School will wait for discussion in State College

mcarroll@centredaily.comFebruary 4, 2014 

— Neighbors of the College Heights School want to delay the sale of the former elementary building to Penn State.

Donna Queeney, president of the College Heights neighborhood association, asked State College Borough Council to do just that Monday.

The proposed sale came before council Monday because the borough has the right of first refusal, or the first chance to buy, when it comes to all district-owned property in State College.

Queeney said council should wait to make a decision on the property to allow for more public input.

Penn State has offered to purchase the property from the State College Area School District for $400,000. The district first announced last month it had been approached by an interested, but anonymous, buyer.

“People were not aware this was going to happen,” Queeney said Monday.

She said other parties were interested in the building, and one had “very appropriate use, had the money, (but) felt he didn’t have a chance.” She did not identify the potential buyers.

District officials have previously said they have received "periodic inquiries from prospective purchasers,” but that the offer from Penn State was the first they received for the building.

Queeney said others who are interested might come forward if given an opportunity.

“Penn State I’m sure will be good neighbors,” she said. “But (with a delay) people will feel this has been a fair process.”

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine previously said he would recommend council table the matter and discuss it later at a work session. That’s the direction council went Monday, voting unanimously to put off a decision.

“We should discuss how we can take input from the community,” said council President Jim Rosenberger. “This is an opportunity that only comes around occasionally. We want to make sure we do what is right for (the taxpayers and the neighborhood).”

Councilman Peter Morris said he doesn’t object to allowing others to come forward, but that “the (Penn State) University Press use should be high up on the list because they would be excellent neighbors.”

The university would use the school building to house the Penn State Press, which a spokeswoman said has outgrown its location in University Support Building I.

“It would be quiet,” said Morris, whose son works in the office. “They are book people. They tend not to have wild parties, even on the Friday afternoon before Christmas. I think they would be excellent neighbors.”

In other business, borough residents will see a modest increase in their sewer bills after Borough Council approved a rate increase Monday.

Council unanimously approved a 3.89 percent increase to the borough’s sewer fee. The new rate goes into effect for water used after April 1, and won’t be reflected on quarterly bills until July.

The new rate amounts to an increase of 35 cents per 1,000 gallons of water consumed. The average borough customer’s quarterly bill will increase to $102.10.

Officials said the rate increase will help offset costs passed on to the borough by the University Area Joint Authority in December.

Also at the meeting, Fountaine said parking lots at the site of the proposed Fraser Centre building will be closed Tuesday because the developer will be there doing preliminary engineering work.

It will be the first time the current ownership group, which purchased the property in October, will be working at the site, a borough official said.

Developer Gary Brandeis said last month he could not set a date for groundbreaking on the delayed and anticipated project, but he expressed optimism that plans were moving forward.

After years of delays and changes, the Fraser Centre concept was revived in 2013. Plans call for a 12-story mixed-use building that would include a hotel, retail and commercial space, and residential units.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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