State College Area School District Hosts Community Forum, Draws Attendance of Nearly 200
State College Area School District Superintendent Bob O'Donnell asked a crowd of residents packed into State High's South Building Auditorium at the first community forum on Monday night if they were open to change, and could they do it.
An overwhelming majority of the nearly 200 residents who attended the forum on Wednesday said they support renovations to State College Area High School, via a vote – which was recorded by clickers on loan from the Penn State Faculty Senate.
While complete details of the renovations will not be known for sure for some time, members of the community and district officials showed in their actions and reflected in their votes a commitment to an emphasis on change for its high school students.
The first community forum on the State College Area High School project was held at 7 p.m. Wednesday to discuss potential plans moving forward and to include the community in each step of the process. The next forum will be held at the same time and in the same place, the South Building Auditorium, on Feb. 28.
Before the forum started, least 75 people went on guided tours of the North and South Building. Led by student volunteers, they were shown up close what is keeping the school's various programs – which the student tour guides commended as excellent and progressive – from fulfilling their true potential because of the aging facilities.
Many of the school's amenities in both buildings haven't been updated since the 1950s and 1960s. The two volunteers, both female students in their senior year of high school, said classrooms flood or are not climate-controlled, wires hang from the walls and ceiling if they aren't properly tacked to the wall and often, classes are overfilled with students because there simply is not enough space.
O'Donnell and other district officials addressed possible redesigns for the school. The superintendent said he suggested a single-school format, moving away from the two separate buildings on either side of Westerly Parkway. O'Donnell said part of his reasoning is because enrollment has been decreasing in the district, and there are now well under 600 students to a class.
Some of the suggestions, as presented by the district's architect from Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates, include moving the high school to an entirely new location, demolishing the North building and renovating the South Building and building a brand-new school in the same location.
During the forum, the district's educational planner and Brainspaces, Inc. founder Amy Yurko addressed some of the important aspects relating to renovations that she garnered from talking to and working with students including what is important to them for educational growth and environmental prosperity.
"We're asking the students and the teachers, 'What do you want to be doing, in your education, your teaching, your learning because you're fighting a building that's not the right place to do that,'" Yurko said.
Yurko has been working with hundreds of students since the beginning of the school year to find out what their favorite aspects of the school are, what they want to change and the kind of ideas they like the best. Some students, she said, have been extremely receptive, submitting their own potential designs for a new high school. One freshman student even submitted an entire power point of his findings and conclusions he came to that he said he believed the school would benefit from the most.
Some members of the community came forward during public comment hour to express their support for new facilities while others said they were concerned about the cost of the project.
Laura Robinson, whose daughter is a sophomore in the district's Delta program said it is time to move away from the events leading up to and occurring in 2009 that caused the high school plan to be scrapped.
"The past is the past. Let's put the past behind us, no harm, no fault," she said.
Robinson said the change in the openness of the board over the past few years is cause for change and moving forward.
All comments and concerns will be taken back to the board of directors, being that the process is in its earliest stages, but the next meeting more solid figures will be announced for the community to consider.
The project can not move forward without support from the majority of the community, as it will go to referendum in 2013. Ultimately, community members will have the chance to vote and either say yes to funding or no.
"Whatever it comes down to, we want it to be successful," O'Donnell said. "Conversations and engagement with the community ... sharing details behind numbers, that has to happen so that people know why ... what's happening is happening."