Penns Valley

Penns Valley board hires architect to work on high school master plan

The Penns Valley Area school board Wednesday night approved the hiring of a firm that would provide the first phase of architectural services for the district’s high school master plan.

They also unanimously approved a 2016-17 proposed final budget that doesn’t call for a tax hike.

Board member Hank Yeagley said this would be the second consecutive year without a tax increase.

The proposed final budget calls for $26,115,852 — a 2.06 percent increase from the current year’s budget.

District Business Manager Jef Wall said the no tax increase is attributed to state funding.

“There was favorable revenue we weren’t anticipating when the state finally passed its budget and allocated (education) funds,” he said.

Wall said the majority of the budget goes toward retirement contributions, which increased by $350,000; medical insurance, which increased by $100,000; salaries including the addition of two personal care aides and a special education hearing impaired interpreter that totals about $140,000; and a $43,000 increase in charter school costs.

In a 7-1 vote, the board also approved a contract agreement with KCBA Architects, of Hatfield.

Board member Jeff Hyde was absent.

Board member Mark Benfer was the lone no vote saying he thinks the project is moving too fast, and is voting on behalf of residents who approached him in disapproval of the plan.

According to a document from the district, the company would provide junior and senior high school design plans for the first phase of a five-phase proposed high school master plan.

It includes additions and renovations to the auditorium and set construction area; band room; high school offices including the nurse, counseling and principal; classrooms and workspaces; new gymnasium; and athletic field restrooms.

However district spokesman Nate Althouse said the hiring of the firm doesn’t necessarily mean the master plan is an official go.

“We are just hiring them to devise more sophisticated plans,” Althouse said. “Once all the technical specs are done, they will be sent out to bid with contractors. We won’t know the extent of what will be done, if anything, until the bids come back from the contractors.”

Bidding for any board-approved projects could start in February.

Yeagley said the board will vote on each project separately, not as a whole.

Superintendent Brian Griffith said the school board solicited feedback from residents and community groups regarding the master plan, and identified “areas of concern.”

District administrators also held three public sessions to address information regarding potential future plans, and unveiled spending behind the proposal that could cost the district about $17.6 million.

The mission behind the project is to make renovations to identified areas of concern in a way that puts staff and students’ safety and academic needs first, Griffith said.

But a handful of community members addressed the board Wednesday night asking them to allow residents to vote on the plan at the next election.

Spring Mills resident Bonita Whitehill was the first to speak and said she hopes the decision to pass the master plan will be in the hands of the people who live in the Penns Valley Area School District.

One of her concerns is that school taxes would increase, making it hard for residents to afford.

Wall said money to complete the project would come from the district’s fund balance, which is like a savings account.