Penn State

Penn State interested in College Heights school site to house university press

Penn State has made an offer to the local school district to buy the College Heights School on North Atherton Street, but the process will hinge on what State College borough officials want to do with the historic building.

The university would use the school building to house the Penn State Press, spokeswoman Lisa Powers said Wednesday, days after the State College Area School District announced there was an interested, but anonymous, buyer. Powers said the university has discussed the purchase from the school district, but there is no agreement yet on the property.

The school, at 721 N. Atherton St., houses the district’s printing services and curriculum offices, which are expected to move to another building, and officials have said there is no longer a use for the property. Powers said the university press has outgrown its current location in University Support Building I, which is tucked away near the poultry and mushroom research centers on the northern terminus of University Drive.

“We felt that not only would this help the Penn State Press, but provide an appropriate type of quiet weekday office use for the old school because it is not a traffic generating activity,” Powers said. “This scholarly type of activity would also allow us improve the existing building and site to retain the architectural quality and open space on the parcel.”

Powers said the press does not print publications on-site; instead, jobs are sent away or done electronically, she said.

The building was built in 1931, and was an elementary school through 1971. From 1974 to 1981, the school housed the district's alternative education program, which is now the Delta program.

According to county records, the property has a market value of $1,263,000.

A purchase could need two different approvals. A judge will need to approve the sales agreement, and if Penn State were the buyer, its board of trustees would need to approve a purchase if the price is more than $1 million.

State College Borough Council has the right of first refusal, or the first chance to buy, when it comes to all district-owned property in the borough. The council will have until July 17 to vote on whether it wants the property.

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said the council could discuss the matter at its Feb. 3 meeting.

“I expect council to take this under advisement, and I don’t expect them to take any action on deciding whether or not to exercise the right of first refusal at (that) meeting,” Fountaine said in an email. “There is a six-month deadline for them to act on this.”

College Heights residents are eager to have the school maintained with the same look on the outside, said Donna Queeney, the president of the neighborhood association. Residents also want a partner who will be a “good neighbor.”

“I think as I listened to people talk, the concern is if Penn State purchases the property and uses it for the Penn State Press that over time they will continue to use it and be a good neighbor,” Queeney said. “Penn State certainly has the capability of being an excellent neighbor.”

Powers said if the university buys the building, the plan would be to make some site improvements, such as bringing maintenance issues up to code and adding some landscaping.

The acquisition of the College Heights school property would allow the university to move around other offices that are in need of space, Powers said. For instance, she said the Parking Office and Environmental Health and Safety Office could expand into the University Support Building I in space vacated by the press.