State College school board appears to favor higher referendum total

After months of discussion and community feedback, the State College Area school board is expected to set a referendum maximum for the high school project at its meeting Monday night.

The board will be voting on a motion to set the amount at not to exceed $85 million, according to the agenda.

Though some board members have spoken in favor of smaller numbers, a majority have said they would be comfortable setting the total at $85 million, and Vice President Amber Concepcion expects the board will come to a consensus.

Concepcion said at the last meeting that she would be more comfortable setting the referendum amount at $75 million, but she will obviously continue putting strong support behind the project even if the board votes for the higher total. She said the project is too important.

“If the board moves forward with an $85 million referendum question, it will not decrease my support of the project,” she said.

Concepcion said her previous thoughts on a $75 million referendum stem from not wanting to take a chance by setting the number too high for the community to support. She will hold any additional thinking for the board discussion Monday.

The difference between $75 million and $85 million is about $20 per year for the average homeowner for the likely 30-year duration of the bond, businesses administrator Randy Brown has said.

The referendum-based tax increase is a separate line item from the normal school tax, which will be added incrementally as the borrowing occurs and come off the books when the bonds are fully repaid.

A vote for a final referendum number is slated for the Feb. 10 meeting with approval for the referendum question in March, preparing for the vote on May 20, 2014. If the board sets the not-to-exceed number at $85 million, they can still decide to bring it down before final approval.

The board has set a project maximum of $115 million, and the difference between the referendum amount and total project cost will be supplemented by district borrowing and an upfront contribution. Brown has said the plan allows for updates of other aging district facilities in addition to the new high school.

Other agenda items Monday include informational updates on the Memorial Field bleacher project and the buy-a-brick campaign for the Fraser Street walkway to raise money for additional Memorial Field projects.

The construction team is putting the final touches on the nearly $3 million project, which included new west side bleachers, a temporary bleacher structure on the east side of the field, a drainage system to the sinkhole and a turf replacement.

Final completion has been delayed by weather-related factors, and there is no set date for total completion at this time, Physical Plant Director Ed Poprik wrote in a board memo.