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School Board Adds Delta Program to High School Project, Adding $4.5 Million to Cost

by on November 10, 2014 10:59 PM

The State College Area School Board approved an additional cost of $4.5 million dollars for the high school renovation project, but that isn’t set in stone.

The school district’s Delta program was expanded earlier this year to include middle school students in fifth through eighth grades. The Delta alternative educational experience, prior to this year, was only available to high school students in the ninth through twelfth grades.

Delta Program Director Jon Downs told the board that, outside of some minor “growing pains,” this expansion has gone smoothly for faculty and the 80 new middle school level students. However, the timing of this expansion has presented some new difficulties for the high school project.

The high school project design team has had to plan for this influx of students by adjusting the Delta level space in the high school project plans. SCASD Director of Physical Plant Ed Poprik says the design team originally planned an expansion that would have cost $6.5 million.

He says the design team tried to whittle the proposed square footage and cost down, but found that space was becoming “awkward and inefficient.” This forced them to scrap their plans for the Delta program’s space and start from scratch.

This led to a new proposal with that projected additional cost of $4.5 million and ten thousand fewer square feet. Though this frees up additional parking space in the site plan, the Delta section of the project is significantly less fleshed out than the rest of the high school project.

At numerous points throughout Monday night’s meeting, Poprik and architect Jeff Straub told board members they did have specific information about the Delta space, including how mechanical and electrical system will tie into the space.

Board member Jim Pawelczyk said he appreciated these “honest answers,” but they made him wary to approve adding the additional cost to the project cost by officially adding the Delta designs to the high school project.

“That doesn’t give me a lot of confidence to go ahead and approve another $4.5 million to this project,” Pawelczyk said. “There’s a level of refinement and design that still needs to happen.”

SCASD Superintendent Robert O’Donnell tells StateCollege.com this discussion was complicated by the upcoming state process known as PlanCon, when a state representative will review the project’s design later in November. Though aspects of the project can be removed or modified after the PanCon review, no new aspects can be added.

O’Donnell also stresses that the projected $4.5 million for the high school project will not be added to the $85 million dollars approved at May’s public referendum. The additional $4.5 million will instead be directed from district funds already earmarked for capital improvement projects.

O’Donell says “it just wouldn’t make sense” to leave the Delta program in its current location in the Fairmount Avenue building, which is the oldest student-occupied building in the school district. To renovate the Fairmount Avenue building to accommodate the continued growth of the Delta program is projected to cost $20 million, which is driving the program toward the new high school.

“If we don’t add the Delta middle level program to this project, we’ll need to have more substantive discussion on the long term direction of the Delta program,” O’Donnell told board members on Monday night. “It would be very difficult to move forward, because Fairmount is not a long term solution for the program.”

After much debate and thorough discussion, the board voted to approve the addition of the Delta program to the high school project planning process – but with a condition. The design team and district administration will have to work together over the coming weeks and months to write a detailed document outlining the educational goals of the program and how these goals will fit into the high school project space.

O’Donnell says this conversation will happen multiple times with the school board in the coming weeks, and will likely be completed before the high school project reaches the 60 percent design review in January.

If the design team is unable to outline these goals and space needs with sufficient detail in this time, the board still has the ability to pull the Delta space from the high school project.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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