State College

State College school board outlines plan to determine high school project options

The State College Area school board presented and endorsed a plan to evaluate the options for the high school project and move one step closer to a referendum question at its meeting Monday.

The board will be eliminating options through the results of a community survey and an evaluation matrix to determine a budget and will limit the concepts to one or possibly two by the Sept. 9 meeting.

The first elimination will occur at the board’s next meeting, July 22, and be completely determined by survey results. The board will receive and discuss the 1,600 returned surveys at next week’s work session and concepts will only be considered viable if the survey results reflect they can receive a simple voting majority on a referendum.

“The community is the gatekeeper,” board member Jim Pawelczyk said. “We are only looking at concepts that we can ascertain have community support.”

Returned surveys will be weighted to create a representative sample to help ensure the results accurately reflect the community as a whole.

If an option moves past the first elimination it will be entered in the evaluation matrix, which will be made up of weighted concepts and criteria established by the board and advisory committees.

The six board-weighted concepts that are being considered are: safety and security; educational model; site and location; cost; constructability; and sustainability and environment. The 55 criteria expand on each of the concepts and are being weighted by advisory committees.

High school options that receive the highest score, based on the weighted points, will move forward.

Board members said establishing the weighting and evaluating system before seeing the results is extremely important because it eliminates biases from the equation.

Survey results will also determine a referendum budget cap based on the average of what the community is willing to spend.

“I think that’s going to play the main role in establishing a budget for the project,” board Vice President Amber Concepcion said of the survey results.

A budget for the project could be changed based on additional funding factors like building in phases, but it will provide a ceiling for the debt service on the anticipated May referendum.

The vote to endorse the elimination process and the timeline passed 8-1, with board member Laurel Zydney casting the dissenting vote.

Zydney said she doesn’t know if she will be comfortable to definitely vote on a second elimination at the Sept. 9 meeting because there aren’t any more substantial, planned discussions on the educational model until late August.

“Without seeing the educational model and having the community see it, I can’t support that timeline,” she said.

The current timetable for option elimination will include an Aug. 13 community forum on the remaining viable options.

The timeline to choose a final option — or perhaps two — is determined because if an offsite option is chosen the district must first gain approval for the project through a Developments of Regional Impact application. The DRI application is a minimum nine-step process and requires approval from both the host municipality and the Centre Region Council of Governments.

That application could potentially jeopardize a May referendum anyway, but the vote wouldn’t take place if an offsite option isn’t either selected or eliminated by the second elimination.