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State College School Board Approves Referendum for High School Project

by on February 10, 2014 9:02 PM

The State College Area School Board approved two critical measures Monday night related to the planned renovations and construction at State College Area High School.

With a 7-2 vote, the board approved $85 million as the final amount the district will ask taxpayers to sign-off on for improvements to the district's two high school buildings. Board members Jim Pawelczyk and Laurel Zydney voted against the measure.

Subsequently, with an 8-1 vote, the board approved the question that will appear on the ballot for voter approval in the Primary Election. Pawelczyk voted against the measure.

"I think this is extremely important that we move ahead with this in the amount we are going with and that we pull together and make this happen for our district," Zydney said.

Voters within the school district will ultimately decide if the district should incur the debt for construction and renovations at the two high school buildings.

A draft version of the question reads:

"Shall debt in the sum of $85 million dollars for the purpose of financing new construction and renovations to the State College Area High School be authorized to be incurred as debt approved by the electors?"

The Centre County Board of Elections must approve the ballot question. The question cannot be longer than 75 words.

The question will appear on the ballot during the May 20 Primary Election. Anyone registered can vote on the referendum, regardless of party affiliation.

The total project cost is estimated at $115 million with a 5.3 percent interest rate and a term of 30 years. The $30 million balance will be funded through the appropriation of a current tax.

The 7.2 percent tax increase will be determined based on a property's assessed value – not the market value. The district calculated the percentage tax increase based on the 2013-2014 property tax rate of 38.75 mills, or $38.75 per $1,000 of assessed value.

For example, for a property with a $100,000 market value, the assessed value of the property would be $28,409 and the estimated annual tax would be $79 or $7 a month.

For a property with a $200,000 market value, the assessed value would be $63,920, and the estimated annual tax would be $178 or $15 a month.

This figure only reflects the new tax to cover the high school project, not the existing property tax owed to the school district. If voters approve the referendum, the related tax would show up as a separate line item on a taxpayer's bill and be in addition to the regular school district tax rate.

The referendum tax would remain in effect until the debt for the high school is paid in full, which is an estimated 30 years.

The district has been working on a plan for the deteriorating and outdated high school campus since 2009. Through the planning process, the district has reached out to the public for feedback on how to proceed. Additionally, officials have held a slew of public forums to address questions and concerns related to the project.

Still, board members said Monday night that many members of the community are still uninformed when it comes to the high school project.

"We are being transparent in this process," says board President Penni Fishbaine. "We're willing to come out and talk."

As for pending renovations and expansions at district's two-building high school campus, two architectural firms have presented cost estimates.

Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates Architects estimates the project to cost roughly $115 million. The Alexander Building Construction estimate ranged between $118 million and $124 million. The largest differences in estimates were in costs for renovation and site work. Both estimates are preliminary and expected to change as details for the project are finalized.

The board says it will not increase the established project cost of $115 million.

As of now, the project will include the following work at the South Building; demolition of 97,000 square-feet, 385,000 square-feet of new construction, and renovations to 92,000 square-feet. At the North building the project will include demolition of 137,000 square-feet, renovation of 101,000 square-feet and new construction of 20,000 square-feet.

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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. jenn.miller@statecollege.com
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