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State College Borough Council Discusses College Heights School, Traffic Light Cameras

by on February 03, 2014 10:11 PM

State College Borough Council agreed Monday night to hold additional talks concerning the fate of the College Heights School.

The State College Area School District wants to sell the property to Penn State University.

Through a voice vote and without opposition, council agreed to further review the matter. Several council members said the borough should create opportunities for the public to weigh in on the issue before council makes a decision.

The borough recently received notice from the school board that the district has entered into an agreement with Penn State for the sale of the College Heights School for $400,000.

The College Heights School was built in 1931 and was once an elementary school. The property, located at 721 N Atherton St., includes a 14,000 square-foot structure sitting on two acres of prime real estate.

The borough has first right to refusal on all school district properties located within the borough. The university intends to use the property for University Press offices. The borough has six months to decide if it wants to exercise its right to take ownership of the property.

Donna Queeney, president of the College Heights Neighborhood Association, raised concerns with council regarding the district's approach to selling the property, through private negotiation, as opposed to a public bid or auction process.

Queeney says there are other parties who are interested in the property who were not given an opportunity to purchase the property. Queeney asked council to talk to all interested parties before reaching a final decision to give the process more transparency.

"I think it makes people see that this has been a fair process if you do that," she says.

Several council members agreed the borough should evaluate the proposed sale before reaching a decision as well as seek public input.

Council President Jim Rosenberger said that such an opportunity infrequently comes before council therefore officials should use the next six months to collect input from all interested parties before taking action.

Councilman Evan Myers says the borough should take seriously the fact that the borough has first right to refusal.

"I think we need to take time to think about this," he says.

Councilman Thomas Daubert says council needs to seek a legal opinion regarding what specifically the university can do with the property should the sale be approved. Daubert says oftentimes decisions are made based on what a party says it will do with a property and "95 percent of the time that's not what they do."

Councilman Peter Morris, whose son works for the University Press, says he agrees the borough should look into the proposal. However, believing University Press would be quiet, respectable tenants, Morris says University Press should be high up on the list of consideration.

The school board says it has informally approved the sale, with the expectation that it will take formal action during a regular public meeting once the borough makes a decision.

The school board says the College Heights building was not on the market, but the district receives periodic inquiries from prospective purchasers and has provided tours of the property to all potential buyers.

The district says Penn State's offer is the only offer that has been made for the property. The district says the offer was in line with the most recent appraisal of the property from October 2012, performed by Chris Aumiller, a state certified appraiser.

The market value assessed in 1995 was considerably higher, the district says, but the condition of the building as evaluated by the appraiser in 2012 more accurately reflects its current condition and value.

The district says the 1995 reassessment considered the College Heights School as a commercial building without regard to the residential zoning restrictions of the location, meaning the reassessment focused on the income-generating potential of the property only.

Land for the school building was sold in 1922 to what was then known as the School District of the Borough of State College by Adam and Rebecca Krumrine for $1. The deed stipulated that the plot "is to be used for school purposes and a school building is to be erected ..."

The issue of traffic light cameras also came up Monday night during a discussion of legislative issues. Earlier this month, State College Police Chief Thomas King told StateCollege.com he supports the use of cameras in the borough as a method to reduce the number of crashes involving pedestrians.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly approved legislation in 2012 allowing camera use within all first, second and third-class counties in towns with a population of at least 20,000, and under the direction of an accredited police department by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.

While State College has an accredited police department, the borough does not qualify to utilize red light cameras because it is located in a fourth-class county.

King says he would like to see the law amended to remove the class of a county as a determining factor. Over the summer, council contacted state lawmakers saying it also wanted the authority to install traffic light cameras.

Morris said Monday the enforcement tactic is "very big brother-ish, so I'm opposed to it. ... Even if it increased highway safety on the whole I think I would be opposed to it"

Myers, a newly elected councilman, said Monday night he would like to better understand the pros and cons of traffic light cameras before the full council supports such legislation.

Myers says there is conflicting evidence regarding the success of traffic light cameras. He also says and there are concerns regarding constitutional rights in regards to tickets being issued well after the alleged infraction.

"If we're going to support something "I would like to feel more comfortable about understanding the benefits of it," Myers says.

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine says changing the law would simply give the borough the authority to use cameras, however, if the legislature amends the law, council would then have to approve the installation of cameras in the borough.

Since StateCollege.com's report on the matter, several council members received a slew of concerns from various groups and individuals. Council briefly raised several concerns regarding the usage, such as where ticket profits would end up and what rights offenders would have.

King says there is language in the existing bill, which currently applies to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and suburban Philadelphia counties, to address many of council's concerns, including:

- Ticket funds would not go to a third party, such as a traffic light manufacturer.

- Each offense is reviewed by a police officer before a ticket is issued.

- Tickets would only be issued by a police officer.

- Tickets would feature a date and time of the alleged offense.

- Tickets would not impact a driver's insurance.

- If the owner of a vehicle receives a ticket for an offense where the owner was not the driver, the recipient could swear to that fact in court and have the ticket eliminated.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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