State College

State College Borough Council decides to buy College Heights school building

In a 5-2 vote, Borough Council voted Monday to enter into first right of refusal to acquire the College Heights school building.

Council will require a memorandum of understanding to be completed along with signatures on a lease by the Collaboration of Arts, Social Services and Education, the nonprofit organization seeking to occupy the building.

Council members Tom Daubert and Peter Morris voted against the motion.

The memorandum is not yet available to the public, borough Manager Tom Fountaine said. It will be drafted by the attorneys for the borough and CASE.

The board was given a brief update by Fred Fernsler, of Fernsler Hutchinson Architecture LLC, before going into discussion. The firm was asked by the board to conduct an independent review of the property.

Given that the project has historical context, he said, and that it is an old building, it was difficult to zero-in on an exact figure.

As a result, the estimated amount to bring the building up to code is between $1.5 million and $1.75 million.

Art Anderson, architect for CASE, argued that the figures could be changed if the borough would consider phasing the work over the course of several years. One problem with phasing work, however, would be changes in construction wages skewing the figures.

CASE President Mary Dupuis assured council that there are at least two banks that would provide CASE with loans.

The issue became whether CASE would be able to afford the changes. If the board exercised the right of first refusal and CASE was not able to continue with payments or secure a loan, as the owner of the property, what would the borough’s options be?

According to council, the property could have several uses, such as public housing, a library or a performing arts center.

The problem, Councilwoman Sarah Klinetob said, is that if the borough decides to sell the building, the borough would have no say in what entity would purchase and occupy the property.

Other council members still felt the board’s purchase of the property would be a good investment in the community.

If the building falls back into the hands of the borough, council assured it would be taken care of and not be allowed to fall into decay. However, changes or improvements would not be made.