Potential College Heights school buyers address State College Borough Council

mcarroll@centredaily.comApril 7, 2014 

— Penn State wants it to be the new home for the University Press and its 30 employees.

The Collaboration of Arts, Social Services and Education hopes to have found a home base where its member nonprofit organizations can have office space and hold classes and community meetings.

State College Borough Council heard presentations Monday from CASE and the university, the two interested buyers of the former College Heights school, about what they would do with the property.

The State College Area School District has an agreement in place to sell the building to Penn State, but the borough has right-of-first refusal, or the first chance to buy, when it comes to all district-owned property in the municipality.

Council members have said they would take their time with a decision and previously invited the public and other interested parties to become part of the process, which is what CASE did last month. The borough’s process led both the umbrella nonprofit group CASE and Penn State to come before council Monday to discuss everything from how they would fund necessary repairs, to how busy the parking lot and site would be.

Deborah Howard, Penn State’s director of Facilities, Resources and Planning, estimated the building might need more than $2 million in renovations, including major projects like a new roof, heating and air conditioning upgrades, window replacements and remediation for radon, lead and asbestos.

Howard said the university has $1 million to invest in the project now, including the roughly $400,000 its has offered to buy the property.

She said the university would first make initial repairs and improvements to get the building ready to move the University Press there, and over time would complete more substantial projects.

“If you do one thing in a building, sometimes code requires you do all things to being it up to code,” Howard said. “We could be talking about an investment of $2 million plus. We don’t have that. So what we want to do is figure out things we have to do.”

John Arrington, who is serving as a financial adviser for CASE, said the organization has collected about $200,000 through fundraising and that at least one financial institution has expressed interest in extending a loan to the nonprofit.

“Fundraising efforts are ongoing and continuing to yield fruit,” he said. “Clearly, as a nonprofit we’ll be pressed for funds.”

Arrington said the group is exploring opportunities through foundations and grants to find money for renovations.

Mary Dupuis, president of the CASE board, said the local chapter of the American Association of University Woman and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Penn State would be anchor tenants of the building, “both investing significant amounts of money in it.” Other nonprofits would also lease space at the site.

Also at the meeting, Councilwoman Theresa Lafer expressed concern that the school district came to an agreement with Penn State for the property without involving other potential buyers, who she said were told they could not make an offer.

“I am still concerned that Penn State was allowed to make an offer and other people were not,” she said.

Scott Etter, who was part of a school district delegation at the council meeting Monday, said nether he, Ed Poprik, district director of physical plant, nor other administrators Etter has spoken with told potential buyers the land wasn’t for sale.

Borough Council is expected to vote on whether to exercise its right to buy the property at a June meeting. The borough is offering residents a chance to speak about the matter at a meeting in May. Residents who wish to provide comment must pre-register by April 18 and can do so on the borough’s website.

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

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