State College

Upcoming meetings important to State College Area High School project

Close followers of the State College Area High School project likely circled Sept. 9 on their calendars weeks ago because that is the date the district’s board will be choosing a final building concept.

But that is not the only important action item that is expected to be on the agenda.

The board also could be taking action on a final total budget for the project, ending months of talks and range estimates. The vote would not necessarily reflect the debt service referendum number but would provide a baseline for the architects to work out a final design.

At the last meeting, board President Penni Fishbaine pushed the other members of the board on their readiness to make a final decision on the budget after a presentation by Penn State statistics professor David Hunter, who provided insight into what the community survey results said people might be willing to spend.

Several board members said they would be ready to make a decision next meeting, and the item was moved forward.

Ultimately, when looking at a cost for the referendum, board member Jim Pawelczyk said the board should be risk-averse and present a safer number to the voters that they are confident will pass.

“I don’t want to take on extra risk with this because what’s at stake is the kids’ future,” he said.

A handful of community members have also come forward during the public comment portions of the last few meetings to advise the board against taking that extra chance.

There is some uncertainty when it comes to interpreting the survey results, specifically questions 7 and 11.

Question 7 asked residents what percentage tax increase they would be comfortable paying, and question 11 asked what would be an acceptable amount to invest in a new high school. There was some discrepancy when the percentage tax increase came in lower than what people could see invested as a total cost.

Pawelczyk said he would lean more toward the tax increase question because people have been trained to think in percentage tax increases. As an example, he said many people could name the tax increase percentage from last year but many wouldn’t know the actual total.

Another factor will be which concept is chosen, but the price ranges are very similar. Concept B would renovate and add to both buildings, putting core classes on both sides of Westerly Parkway with an enclosed walkway connecting the two. It comes with an estimated price tag of $109.9 to $115.5 million

Concept D would put core classes on just the south side of Westerly Parkway, using the north building for things like the gyms and pool. Its cost estimate ranges from $109.1 to $114.7 million.

Any reduction in cost would have to come at the cost of square footage, Physical Plant Director Ed Poprik said. He said the price per square foot is already as low as it’s going to get.

Much of the effort moving forward will be dependent on getting as much information as possible out to the public, Vice President Amber Concepcion said.

She said the board needs to work to give people all the necessary information to get them out to the polls and confident they will be making a strong decision.

“There’s a great deal riding on the communication effort,” she said.