State College Area school board expected to choose final high school project concept at Monday meeting

One of the biggest questions surrounding the State College Area high school project will be answered Monday night as part of a jam-packed agenda.

After months of planning, debate and feedback, the school board is expected to choose a final building concept between choices B and D.

Concept B would locate core academic classes on both sides of Westerly Parkway with additions, renovations, new construction and an enclosed bridge connecting the two. Concept D would locate all core academic classes on the south side of the street, only utilizing the north building for the gyms and the pool.

Amber Concepcion, board vice president, expects this meeting to be one that people will follow closely.

“There’s a number of big decisions, and I’m sure people will be tuning into it,” she said.

To choose the final concept, each board member filled out individual evaluation matrices grading six categories relating to attributes of a new high school. The concept that receives the highest score by the majority of board members will be the final choice.

The six categories — Safety and Security, Educational Model, Site and Location, Cost, Constructability, and Sustainability — were further broken down into 55 criteria, which were weighted by the board’s advisory committees.

Board President Penni Fishbaine said she is uncertain how the vote will go because the board members haven’t talked much behind the scenes about their individual choices.

All questions and debate will happen publicly at the meeting, she said.

But the important votes don’t end there.

The board is also expected to establish a budget ceiling for the project and vote on a final referendum date.

The district recommends the board to vote not to exceed $115 million for the project. Business Administrator Randy Brown ran down four possibilities in the agenda memo altering price, referendum amount, district contribution and district borrowing and it places the referendum tax increase between 5.5 percent and 7.3 percent.

There is no scheduled item Monday to choose a referendum amount or specific details, but the vote will help the architects in planning.

The district is also recommending that the board approve a referendum date of May 20, 2014, which would stay in line with the original plan. Over the past few meetings, there has been discussion to move the date up to a special election in February 2014, which would accelerate the whole timeline.

But district officials said the February referendum would include additional obstacles and incur additional costs.

Following the voting portion, the board will be discussing the educational specifications, expanding on the presentation at the last meeting. There is a suggested calendar for the board to approve the final education specifications and the accompanying education model at the Oct. 14 meeting.

There is also a scheduled community forum on the education specification at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the high school south cafeteria.