School board members must choose between final two high school project concepts

The State College Area school board has narrowed the concepts for the high school project down to two, both on Westerly Parkway.

Now it’s time to eliminate one more.

That will be the task for the board over the next six weeks, coming to a final conclusion at the Sept. 9 meeting. According to community survey results, Concept B and Concept D would both pass a May 2014 referendum, so the board must decide which is better for the residents of the district.

“Both of them should be able to pass referendum if the sampling is, in fact, representative of the community,” board member Jim Pawelczyk said. “The job of the board now is to decide which is the best choice for the educational model that the administration wants to give to this community.”

The fundamental difference between the two choices is that Concept D would locate all core academic classes in the school’s South Building, and Concept B would keep core classes in both buildings with a walkway connecting the two.

Concept D would still utilize the North Building for the natatorium and the main gym with additions and/or renovations to the South Building. Concept B would include additions and renovations to both buildings.

The cost range is also similar with Concept D coming in at $109 million to $121 million and Concept B expected to cost $109 million to $115 million.

But Pawelczyk said cost is one of his top factors.

He will be looking for flexibility, wanting to know which concept can be scaled up or down in cost to match the eventual budget.

Another major deciding factor among board members will be which option provides the most safety and security.

Board President Penni Fishbaine said safety and security is her top concern along with the least amount of disruption possible for students during the construction process. She is waiting to hear more about the walkway idea in Concept B before making a final choice between the two, but right now said Concept D could provide more safety.

“Right now I would say D would have more security than B,” she said, “but that’s because I don’t know if that bridge is enclosed or just a walkway between the street.”

In addition to safety and security and cost, the board will also take into account educational model, site and location, so-called constructability and sustainability and environment. There are also 55 criteria, weighted by the advisory committees, that expand on the categories and will be scored by the board.

A final educational model has not been presented, but Vice President Amber Concepcion said both concepts could most likely be designed to fit exactly what the administration wants.

Board members will now individually weight the categories and score the criteria in each, coming up with a final score by entering the numbers into an evaluation matrix.

The goal of the district between now and the Sept. 9 meeting will be to provide as much information to the board members as possible, Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said.

There is no one person to answer every question, but over the next two meetings the architects and the people focusing on the educational model will be brought in to answer the board’s questions.

“We want to make sure they have all the information they need to make an informed decision,” O’Donnell said,

Though Concept B received 70 percent community support in the survey and Concept D got 61 percent, that will not matter now. Both concepts are viewed as viable and the concept getting the highest score from the majority of board members will be the one that moves forward and is developed.

Concepcion said she is happy with the community response to this point and is optimistic the final choice will pass a referendum in May.

“We have been so encouraged by the response to the survey and the community saying that this is an important project at this time,” she said.