State College school board backs high school with most classes in south building; gym, pool in north

It was a landslide.

With only two concepts remaining, the State College Area school board unanimously voted in favor of Concept D to select it as the final building choice for the high school project. The meeting also featured votes that established a project budget ceiling and a referendum date.

Of the board members who revealed the scores of their evaluation matrices, Concept B wasn’t even close.

Board member Amber Concepcion said the design of Concept D will allow the district to maximize the opportunities of the proposed educational specifications and provide additional safety with less access points to patrol.

“I think that this is the right decision for the next 50 years,” she said.

Concept D would locate all core academic classes on the south side of Westerly Parkway utilizing additions, renovation and new construction. The north side of the street would be used for the gyms, the swimming pool and could be a home for the district’s Delta program.

The board also unanimously voted against further consideration of Concept B, which would have located core academic classes on both sides of the street, utilizing additions, renovation and new construction on both sides. There also would have been an enclosed bridge connecting the buildings.

The larger footprint of that option was a negative for board member Dorothea Stahl because it spread out classrooms and didn’t fit the educational specifications as closely.

To make the final choice, each board member individually filled out evaluation matrices rating six board-weighted categories that were broken down into 55 advisory committee-weighted criteria.

The six categories were safety and security; educational model; site and location; cost; constructability; and sustainability.

For several board members, Concept D beat Concept B in every category.

Board member David Hutchinson added that he thought the model to reach a decision was thorough and helped him think about aspects he might have overlooked.

“I found this process very helpful,” he said. “I picked up differences that might not have occurred to me.”

But the important votes didn’t stop there.

The board voted 5-4 to establish a budget ceiling for the project of $115 million, but that number likely won’t reflect the number that is put on the referendum.

Two members who voted against the motion, Jim Pawelczyk and Ann McLaughlin, wanted to stipulate more information with the vote, specifically focusing on one of four funding scenarios provided by the district.

Pawelczyk moved to accept a funding scenario that would have set a project cost a $115 million, broken down to $73 million in referendum borrowing, a $10 million district funding contribution and $32 million of district borrowing. It would set a referendum tax increase at 6 percent.

But his motion was voted down 7-2.

Other preliminary cost scenarios would vary the referendum amount from $67 million to $89 million and include tax increases from 5.5 percent to 7.3 percent.

Board member Jim Leous then moved to delay the vote until the Sept. 23 meeting saying he needed more time to make a decision on the budget question.

His motion was also voted down 7-2 with Laurel Zydney voting with him. Leous, Zydney, Pawelczyk and McLaughlin then voted against the original motion to set the project cap at $115 million.

Concepcion pointed out that the vote doesn’t mean the district is committing to spend that entire amount, but it won’t exceed that number.

The cost estimate for Concept D from Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates is $109.1 to $114.7 million.

The board also voted 8-1 in favor of setting a referendum date of May 20, 2014. That date had been assumed for much of the discussions, but recently the idea was brought forth to move it up to a special election in February.

But the administration said the accelerated timeline would not include enough time to work through the communication efforts and inform the community enough to make an educated decision.

“I think it would set us up for a real challenge,” Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said of the accelerated timeline.

Pawelczyk voted against the May referendum because May extends construction time and sets up other monetary questions down the road. A passed February referendum could have set up a completed project for the beginning of the 2018 school year.

Ed Poprik, physical plant director, said the district will now be working with the architect team to see if they can move the project forward faster even with the May referendum date.