Our View | State College high school spending ceiling paves way to plan

The State College Area High School North Building.
The State College Area High School North Building. CDT file photo

Residents of State College Area School District now have a clear idea of what they could be asked to approve for a new high school.

The school board on Monday set a ceiling of $85 million for the ballot referendum that will go before voters in the spring. The number will be locked in by February.

Board members clearly wrestled with whether to approve a lower number that might be more palatable for voters, but that might sell the project short if it does get support to move forward.

The total price tag for the high school project is $115 million, with voters asked to pick up more than half of the cost.

Board member Jim Leous said the $85 million figure was “a maximum value and it can come down as we get better numbers on the overall cost of the project.”

The numbers involved in this effort could make heads spin across the district.

But the district has demonstrated a need for major upgrades in all areas at the State College high school, from facilities that directly impact academics to essentials such as heating and cooling.

Setting a ceiling now allows the district to fine-tune plans and prepare for the spring referendum.

The district has ample time to generate blueprints, pull together solid estimates for materials and labor and develop a clear timeline for work.

The district also has time to present information to the public — as it has been doing all along — so that voters may enter the polls in the spring fully armed with knowledge about the project.

We appreciated insights provided by board member Dorothea Stahl, who said she favored a $75 million spending cap but who has been persuaded to support a higher number because of feedback from people in the community who would rather spend more to get more.

Stahl said she talked to retirees, parents of school-age children and people in between.

Vice President Amber Concepcion and board member Jim Pawelczyk opposed the $85 million figure, which is fine, too. They may be right in the long run.

If the referendum target is lowered, perhaps to $75 million, all the better — provided the overall mission is not compromised.

Funding a new high school is a lot to ask of residents.

But with a project of this scope, the law requires that voters have the opportunity to sign off on the spending.

It’s a good system that puts pressure on school district leaders to plan meticulously and communicate openly.

And the system also demands that residents, especially those who vote, allow themselves to become educated about the project they’re being asked to support with their hard-earned dollars.