Other than the people directly involved with the State College Area School District, one of the groups that would be most impacted by a successful high school project referendum is the local business community.
And the district received an endorsement from the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County, which urged registered voters to vote yes May 20.
CBICC President Vern Squier said it’s clear that the buildings need to be updated, and an even stronger educational system could spur additional economic development in the county.
Though the district and others around the county provide excellent education, Squier said it’s important to keep the buildings up to par.
“We can’t fall into such a state that it’s noticeable in its inefficiencies,” he said of the state of the high school facilities.
With heavy renovations and new construction at the campus’s South Building, Squier said the dedication to the area’s education could be a selling point to get to businesses and residents in the county. He said there is not united support among the chamber’s member organizations because it does come with a large tax increase, but the CBICC staff and board realizes the need.
The district hopes to fund $85 million of the $115 million project through a referendum May 20 that requires a simple majority to pass. If it fails the district will have to put millions in additional capital resources into the mechanically failing buildings.
In the remaining weeks before the vote, Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said district representatives will be executing a final push to educate registered voters about the referendum and answer any questions.
O’Donnell has been spending some time going door-to-door in residential communities and said he has seen a close to 50-50 split in voters. Many realize the need to update the buildings but some are hung up on the cost factor, he said. He said the large cost is generated from the size of the district and the 2,400 high school students it must serve.
He said the CBICC endorsement will be a good step in the process.
“For us and what were trying to accomplish, it’s very important that the business leaders in our community collaborate with us,” he said, adding that he sees the chamber as a partner.
When businesses are looking to come into the area or Penn State wants to hire a professor, O’Donnell said he frequently gives tours of the facilities but always has to put the caveat that they are working to upgrade the buildings.
If the project is approved and the buildings are upgraded, O’Donnell said those tours would become easier and he could focus on the strong academics of the school without having to apologize for the building conditions.