The State College Area school board picked its final high school project concept last month and now the design is starting to take shape.
Members of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates, the architectural firm working on the project, presented some preliminary schematic designs for two options at the meeting Monday, giving the board a first taste about what a fully formed option might look like.
Both options would include some reuse of the existing South Building and a three-story addition to house the small learning communities that were laid out in the educational specifications. Those learning communities would position groups of similar classes together in the design schematics.
The main difference is the first option would place the three-story addition on the west side of the existing building, and the second option would position the addition in front of the existing building, cutting into the parking lot.
With the second option, the architects would be relying on the north side more heavily to include the majority of the parking spaces.
“It takes a pretty significant area of the parking lot,” architect John Beddia said of that option.
Physical Plant Director Ed Poprik also presented potential plans for the North Building, independent from the options for the South Building.
One option would be reusing the North Building for the gyms, natatorium, the Delta Program and a satellite kitchen. The other would include all those uses and move all functions from the Fairmount building to the north side of Westerly Parkway.
Both options call for demolition of the remainder of the North Building, but include sub-options not to demolish the space.
The first north side option would include 825 parking spaces and the second would include 907 spaces. The additional parking with the second option would mainly be in the form of faculty spaces for Fairmount building employees.
The board will revisit the topic at an Oct. 21 work session and discuss it further directly with voters at an Oct. 23 community forum.
There was also talk about how the district will pay for the project.
Business Administrator Randy Brown laid out multiple funding scenarios that would set the yearly tax increase between 5.4 percent and 7.7 percent.
In the projections, the district assumed a $10 million cash contribution and a $16 million total of district borrowing. The numbers varied in terms of total project cost, estimated interest rates and a wrapped debt payment compared to a level debt payment.
In these funding scenarios, Brown said the district would be able to pay off the high school project debt in about 30 years and still have some room in the capital improvements budget to work on other projects.
But board member Jim Pawelczyk said the tax increases look too high.
Pawelczyk has been speaking in favor of a risk-averse referendum question through the entirety of the process, and he said he’s not confident that this funding scenario would pass referendum.
“These are sobering numbers, and I think we really need to look at this,” he said.
Board member Dorothea Stahl said she doesn’t think the numbers alone will make or break the referendum. She said the focus should be continued work on the design plans to show the public exactly what they’re getting for the money.
She said the community sees the need for improvements, and she hopes they are able to come to the aid of the district when everything is laid on the table.
“This is our school district,” she said. “This is a high school that’s in desperate need of an improvement.”
The board also passed a resolution 8-0 to hire Alexander Building Construction to provide a project cost estimate prior to the referendum.
Poprik said it will provide an extra set of eyes, along with Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates, to make sure the cost estimate is accurate.
He said it’s especially important to get the cost right because the May referendum will lock the district into a cost figure for the project.
There is no guarantee that the firm will continue on as a construction manager for the project, but it remains a possibility, Poprik said.
Going forward, Poprik presented an updated timeline for the remainder of the project that he said will be revisited at practically every meeting.
Under the current structure, the board would make a final vote on a design option in December, review estimates in January and approve a final referendum question in February.