State High students hope voters back renovation project

State College Area High School students, who are quite familiar with the problems of flooding after heavy rain and with unpredictable temperatures in classrooms, are hoping the public approves a referendum on the fate of the school’s renovations.

On May 20, registered voters in the district will make the decision of whether or not to pass the referendum to fund the project.

The process of coming to a final decision on how and where to build a new high school began more than a decade ago. But the school board says the time to decide has arrived.

Students — including upperclassmen who would be long gone when a new school opens — say the time is right.

“An investment in a new high school is an investment in the future of State College as an educated community,” junior Isabel Restall said.

State High’s two current buildings are almost 60 years old, and neither meet current codes, officials have said. Both have failing mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, and they do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements.

If the referendum passes, the project will build all core academic areas on the south side of Westerly Parkway, including a combination of renovation and new construction, and preserve a portion of the existing North building (natatorium and gymnasiums) to serve student and community needs. Construction is estimated to begin in mid-2015 and end in 2017, with building occupancy allowed in late 2017 or early 2018.

The high school is now split, with North and South buildings on either side of the busy street.

Travel time between classes would be reduced with the new plan, and students would not have to face inclement weather as they currently do when changing classes from one building to the other.

“It is good that the high school is being consolidated to one side of the street so people don’t have to cross (Westerly Parkway),” senior Emily Fricke said.

The school board has stated that while the deteriorating condition of the buildings is driving the need for the project, the new building must also meet the educational needs of the students.

In an article by school board members Penni Fishbaine and Amber Concepcion, they wrote, “The proposed south side building is designed to enhance learning opportunities by encouraging collaboration, increasing time for student learning, giving a smaller-school feeling to our large high school, and providing flexible spaces that will promote current and evolving educational practices for years to come.”

The architectural firm Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates has produced preliminary schematic designs. The estimated cost of the entire project has been capped at $115 million, and the school board has limited the amount of tax revenue asked of the community to $85 million.

That would mean a tax increase of about $190 yearly, on average, for district homeowners, Business Administrator Randy Brown has said.

“I think that a tax increase would be worth it to help the education of future students in State College,” senior Aubrey Swanson said.

The Delta program would likely be moved from the downtown location to the preserved portion of the North building, but Delta students would remain separate and retain their alternative curriculum.

Restall said she understands the potential benefits of the proposed plan for State High students and would like to see the referendum passed.

“Not having to cross streets and having a school that doesn’t get in the way of our daily education is going to be greatly beneficial to our learning environment,” she said.

Further information can be found on the State High project website future.

Casey McCracken is a senior at State College Area High School and the recipient of the Bill Welch Award for Excellence in Journalism.