State College Borough Council debates College Heights school

Borough Council tossed around a third option Monday as it continues to mull whether to exercise its right of first refusal to purchase the former College Heights school building.

Several council members, at a planned discussion of the building, said the borough should further explore the possibility of buying the former school, holding on to the property and leasing it.

Previous conversations had focused on whether council should consider buying the building, then turning around and selling it.

The State College Area School District has an agreement in place to sell the building to Penn State, but the borough has right-of-first-refusal, or the first chance to buy, when it comes to all district-owned property in the municipality.

Borough Council said it would take its time making a decision. In the meantime, a second potential buyer, The Collaboration of Arts, Social Services and Education — an umbrella nonprofit group — has stepped forward.

CASE is looking for a building where its member groups, including the local chapter of the American Association of University Women and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Penn State, can have permanent offices and meeting areas.

Penn State wants it to be the new home for the University Press and its 30 employees.

Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said that if the borough were to purchase the building and keep it, it might be easier for community groups to use the space.

Councilwoman Catherine Dauler said keeping the building might make it possible for an entity other than the university to have use of the building.

“It’s something else we should explore,” Lafer said.

Were the borough to purchase the building and then sell, it might have to seek bids, meaning whoever has the most money could end up with the property, Councilman Peter Morris said.

Council members also raised other questions at the meeting, including whether CASE could afford to make the kinds of improvements the building might need.

Deborah Howard, Penn State’s director of Facilities, Resources and Planning, previously told council that the building might need more than $2 million in renovations, including major projects such as a new roof, heating and air conditioning upgrades, window replacements and remediation for radon, lead and asbestos.

Councilman Tom Daubert said he would like assurance from the university that it would not use the building for another purpose down the line.

Neighbors have expressed concerns about a sale, saying they want an owner who will be a good neighbor.

Councilman Evan Myers said the panel is putting the neighborhood “first and foremost” and trying to gather as much information as possible before any decision.

Council will meet several more times to talk about the potential purchase before making a final decision at a meeting in June.