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School District Ready to Move Ahead on College Heights School Sale

by on January 19, 2015 6:00 AM

The State College Area School District has been embroiled in the attempted sale of the historic College Heights School property for over two years, and the end is finally in sight.

But that doesn’t mean the end is close.

Even after overcoming a lawsuit, school district solicitor Scott Etter says there’s another legal process the district has to go through before it can finally sell the building to Penn State.

“We will need to Petition the Court for approval, as that is required by the School Code when there is a private sale,” Etter says in an email.  “This is the same procedure that we followed when we sold the old Boalsburg school to [Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy] a few years ago.”

Centre County President Judge Thomas Kistler says he can’t speak to the specifics of the College Heights issue, but explains that petitioning the court is fairly simple process. He says that requiring judicial review before the sale of public property can help ensure that the school district carefully considers how its actions will impact the community.

Kistler has already been involved in the sale of the College Heights School, having ruled on the lawsuit brought by the heirs to the original property owners. The heirs claimed the sale would violate a provision in the original deed that requires the property to be used for “school purposes.”

Kistler overturned that argument, pointing out the building is being sold to a university and that other school buildings have been built to meet the district’s needs since the College Heights School was constructed in the early 1900’s.

G. Scott Garnder, the attorney who represented the heirs, confirms that there are no plans for appeal, clearing the way for the district to sell the building to Penn State. The university wants to use the building to house its University Press offices, though it plans to maintain the current name and brick façade.

“The building has a lot of things that are over 50 years old,” says SCASD Director of Physical Plant Ed Poprik, explaining that the heating, electric and ventilation systems are all in need of upgrades. “I had projected that we would have to invest in a couple million dollars worth of renovations if we wanted to make it a long-term operation.”

Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers says in an email that the university is prepared to make those renovations, but “it will be at least a year before we can close on the purchase and complete required improvements.”

School board president Amber Concepcion says the sale will be a great help to the school district. The $400,000 generated by the sale will help offset the nearly $1.7 million cost of renovating the district’s Panorama Village building.

Concepcion says that's especially important because the Panorama Village building will eventually house the district staffers who currently work in the College Heights building.

“Panorama has more parking space, and larger conference room areas that give us more options for meetings and professional development,” Concepcion says. “The district is always looking to make sure that our functions are located in ways that are efficient and make sense.”

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for 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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