State College

State College school board questions architect over high school project

With less than a month left before a final high school project concept is expected to be chosen, State College Area school board members got a chance Monday to ask burning questions.

Members of the project’s architectural firm, Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates, attended the board meeting to answer questions to help board members fill out their evaluation matrices to choose between Concepts B and D.

Concept B represents additions and renovations to both the North and South buildings with an enclosed bridge connecting the two and Concept D would locate all core academic classes on the south side, using the North Building for functions like the gymnasium and natatorium.

The board got a chance to ask questions about all six categories in the evaluation matrix — safety and security; educational model; site and location; cost; constructability; and sustainability and environment. Those six categories are further broken down into 55 weighted criteria in the evaluation matrix, designed score the two concepts.

Though the cost projections on both concepts range up to about $115 million, results of the community survey indicated that the community would likely not be willing to spend more than $100 million on the project. Board member Jim Pawelczyk said it could be important to see which project could be better scaled back.

Architect John Beddia said Concept D is more amenable to being scaled because the bridge function in Concept B doesn’t allow for as much of a square footage reduction.

He said, “B wouldn’t be B” if it had 50,000 less square feet.

Board member Dorothea Stahl said she wouldn’t want to put a cap on the project or scale back the buildings before the education specifications are released at the next meeting.

She pointed out the survey results were tabulated before the educational model was released, and community members might be willing to pay more if they know what they are paying more from an educational standpoint.

But Pawelczyk said he wouldn’t be as comfortable setting a cap above what the survey results reflected because he doesn’t want to take any major risks in passing a referendum.

“My goal is low risk tolerance because I don’t want to take a chance on failing this referendum.”

Another category that several board members said is one of the most important is safety and security.

Stahl said her main issue is not students crossing the street, rather having access to cars on the way.

“It’s not that children don’t know how to cross the street and they’re going to get hit,” she said.

Several board members advocated for a fully enclosed bridge across Westerly Parkway between the two buildings, a provision that is already included in the preliminary planning. Another option could be an outdoor footbridge that crosses over the street.

The architects added that crossing could be made safer on the street level with the possibility of altering the street to add a center median or speed bumps. Those idea are preliminary and any changes to the street would have to come through talks with State College borough.

The board will hear a presentation of the educational model at its next meeting before it makes a final decision on a concept at its Sept. 9 meeting.

There will also be a community forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the South Building auditorium on the building and design updates where residents will have an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback.