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State College Board to Revisit State High Plans

on April 27, 2010 8:02 AM

The State College school board may soon restart community discussions about the future of the State High campus on Westerly Parkway.

Board members agreed Monday night to weigh within the next couple-or-so months how and when they should revisit the high school facilities issue. They are expected to decide how improvements to the high school should be prioritized among other capital needs in the district, including overhauls for the elementary schools.

Ed Poprik, the district director of physical plant, said he strongly recommends that the board make State College Area High School a top priority.

"Speaking strictly from a facilities (view), that is your largest facilities need in terms of bricks and mortar," Poprik told the board Monday. " ... I believe that our next priority, from a facilities perspective, is the high school."

The State High campus is home to grades nine through 12, housed in two main buildings: the North Building and the South Building, both on the 600 block of Westerly Parkway. Much of the campus dates to the 1950s and '60s. Some areas are prone to flooding; others are simply outdated and heavily worn, school officials have said.

"You can't walk through there and not realize you have to do something," said board member Dorothea Stahl.

A two-year controversy bloomed in 2005 when the last school board planned a $102 million expansion-and-consolidation plan for the school. The plan would have united all four grades in a dramatically expanded North Building, and demolished the South Building entirely.

Community outcry over the proposal helped propel new members onto the board in 2008. The question of what to do about the State High campus has simmered since then.

The improvement-planning process was "halted, but not because we thought we had a fabulous high school that didn't need to be fixed," Stahl said Monday. The board appears to be in agreement that the school needs some upgrades.

Back in June 2009, board members adopted a district-wide facilities master plan that lists State High improvements as a No. 2 priority -- second to several elementary-school needs. The plan notes that the district should build a new high school, renovate the existing high school, or revamp and add onto the existing high school. An improved building or buildings should be able to house as many as 2,400 students, the plan says.

Right now, the student population is about 2,300. The facilities plan recommends further analysis to identify the most suitable building-improvement options.

"Clearly, whatever we do facilities-wise has to support the educational programming of the school," said board member Jim Pawelczyk. He and several other board members seemed to agree that this is a good time to think about State High plans, especially as the district has pressed ahead with other capital priorities.

Work on an addition to Gray's Woods Elementary School is scheduled to begin this summer, with construction on the new Mount Nittany Elementary and improvements at Ferguson Township Elementary slated to start quickly, as well. Community discussions about the future of Memorial Field are being planned for the summer.

Board member Penni Fishbaine said she just wants to be sure that attention focused on the high school won't put other elementary-improvement projects on a waiting list. She would like to see a detailed timetable for the high school project and how that would jibe with the elementary priorities, Fishbaine said.

Likewise, board member Chris Small said, he would like to hear from Poprik some specific criteria about why the high school should be high on the priorities list.

Those points are expected to undergo discussion when the board next addresses the subject. Board President Ann McGlaughlin said the group will schedule a public work session on facilities, including State High, within the next couple months.

In other news Monday night, the board agreed to have the administration appoint a community committee to review the district's elementary-level math curriculum. A number of parents have petitioned the board to switch out the current program, known as "Investigations," which they believe is slowing their children's progress in math and undermining standardized-test scores.

Superintendent Richard Mextorf proposed establishing a committee of community experts, district teachers and others to tackle the issue. The group, to meet four times in May and June, will issue recommendations that should be implemented before school reconvenes for the fall, Mextorf said.

The committee is expected to have as many as 39 members.

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News Wrap: Wake-Up Call (4/27/10)
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