Facilities Plan for the New Avon Grove High School
A majority of the work completed during the 2018-2019 school year pertained to the design development phase of the new high school project. Information regarding the design phases (concept, schematic design and design development) is available for public review on the Facilities page of the Avon Grove website.
The design of the new high school includes a similar number of classrooms as can be found in the current high school plus modular classrooms. The number of collaborative spaces and small group instruction spaces has been increased and includes multiple charging stations for student devices. The number of and space for applied engineering classrooms has been increased. The design also includes 1800 lockers which will be wider and shorter than current lockers with enough space to fit a backpack and coat.
Initial plans for the new high school included a Community Health Center and an Early Childhood Development Center for approximately 20 children 3 to 5yrs old. The Community Health Center has been removed from the current plans though it remains as an add-on if money becomes available. Ms Dorothy Linn who is running for the school board in 2019 supports a Community Health Center in the high school. She views it as an important outreach to the community. Space to accommodate an Early Childhood Development Center including lockers, a food preparation area, age-appropriate toilets, a separate entrance and a playground remain in the design though this opportunity for learning already exists at the Technical College High School (TCHS). Future expenses may include the building of new Competition stadium and Field House to be co-located with the new high school. The infrastructure for the duplicate Competition stadium will installed as part of the current design.
The design development phase for the new high school ended on May 31, 2019. On July 24, 2019 the school district, along with its solicitor, architect and engineers, presented the overall design plan to the Penn Township Planning Commission. The presentation included an overview of the site layout, building layout, necessary traffic improvements and the anticipated construction schedule. While the Penn Township Planning Commission stated that it is supportive of the project, further review is necessary before the plan can be formally accepted.
The Jennersville Campus site has undergone geotechnical evaluations of its soils, which included a series of infiltration tests and soil borings. Due to a high moisture content, the site will require the installation of geopiers, a ground improvement system in which stiff rock columns are drilled into the earth. This system will provide the necessary reinforcement for the soil to support a building foundation.
Data collection for the traffic impact study, which included twelve intersections in the area, was completed in May. The study indicated that most traffic delays fell within PennDOT’s 10-second variance between the current conditions and the projected condition scenarios. Exceptions where projected delays exceeded the 10-second variance include the intersections of PA-796 (Jennersville Road) and Pennock’s Bridge Road, and PA-796 and PA-896 (Newark Road). These intersections may require improvements to eliminate traffic congestion.
As expected, work will be required for future site access at W. Baltimore Pike and Vineyard Way. This includes the installation of a traffic signal and widening of W. Baltimore Pike to extend the westbound left-turn lane. An additional traffic signal, new striping and a northbound right-turn lane will be installed for site access at PA-796 and the Shoppes at Jenner’s Village.
Budget for the New High School
The final design plan estimate, prepared by D’Huy Engineering, proposed a total project cost of $107,870,494 for the new AGHS. This includes an estimate of $13,400,085 for total site construction expenses with a $1M estimated contingency, and a total estimated project contingency of $6,521,825. The District expects these costs to be reduced as the design process continues.
It is important to note that $127 million has been budgeted to build the new high school and renovate the current high school to a new middle school. The cost to renovate the current high school to a new middle school has not been presented. Whatever money is left over from building the new high school will be used to renovate the current high school to a middle school. There may only be enough money to address issues with the HVAC system and roof and that no money will be available to deliver the badly needed upgrades to the bathrooms and auditorium.
ACT 34 Hearing
An ACT 34 Hearing was held on September 12, 2019. The ACT 34 hearing is mandatory for school districts applying for PA state reimbursement of a portion of their building costs (PlanCon). Its purpose is to present the plans for a facilities project to the residents of the school district in order to provide them with a public forum to express their opinions regarding the project. It is an opportunity for the public to learn about the proposed construction project and for the School Board to receive and record comments and observations regarding the project. This interaction can only be successful if the plans and costs for the entire facilities project are presented to the public at the same time. It was made clear during the hearing that there is no guarantee that the state will reimburse any of the building costs. If reimbursement does happen, it could be up to 7.1% of each dollar spent. However, the money will not come back to the school district in a lump sum but will be reimbursed as the loan is paid off over the next 22 years.
Building a new high school is not the only part of the project that should have been discussed at this ACT 34 hearing. Option 1A, as the current facilities project was referenced, includes not only the building of a new high school on the Jennersville site but also the conversion of the current high school to a middle school configured for grades 6-8. In addition, Penn London is to be converted to a K-1 grade configuration and the Avon Grove Intermediate School is to be converted to a 2-5 grade configuration. The existing middle school would be abandoned, demolished, leased, or sold. The school board has committed by a vote of 5 to 4 to spend no more than $127 million on the Option 1A project. Thus the ACT 34 hearing should at a minimum provide feedback to the public on the costs associated with the building of the new high school and the conversion of the current high school to a middle school.
The current high school has been allowed to deteriorate over the years with a leaky roof, bathrooms that are not fully functional, and an auditorium with broken seats and inadequate lighting. These items must be fixed. In addition, a new HVAC system, boilers, fire alarms/sprinklers, sewers lines need to addressed. Floor tiles should be replaced, the building made ADA compliant, and the main office moved closer to the main entrance. These costs need to be established now so an assessment can be made regarding what money is available to build the new high school. Numerous choices can be made on the “nice to haves” for a new high school. There is little choice on what must be done for a successful high school to middle school conversion. Ideas regarding a Community Health Center, Early Learning Center and a duplicate competition stadium have been discussed regarding the new high school. In fact, space for an Early Learning Center and the building of infrastructure for a future duplicate competition stadium are still in the plans. These are at most “nice to haves” and should not even be considered until after the full cost of the current high school conversion to a middle school has been established.
Being able to finance the $127 million targeted for the facilities project, run the school district, and support the teacher retirement fund, will result in an additional $900 or more per year in school taxes for a median priced home ($169,600) after the 5th year of tax increases. This amount of school tax increases is already a challenge for homeowners particularly those on a fixed income. Even higher tax increases to deal with budget overruns to support a successful conversion of the current high school to a middle school will put even more pressure on the community. Just as important, if the school district is forced to spend more money than the already committed $127 million to build the new high school and convert the current high school to a middle school, we may be in jeopardy of not having enough money to provide the necessary resources and programs that our students and teachers need to be successful.
How the Decision to Build a new High School Was Made
Though it is true that the School Board voted unanimously on April 26, 2018 to build a new high school, it is important to understand how this vote came about. Detailed explorations into alternatives to new construction (e.g. renovation of the current high school) were eliminated during the evaluation process by the 5 member majority of the school board (Ms. Tracy Lisi, Mr. Bill Wood, Ms. Bonnie Wolff, Mr. Herman Engel, and Mr. Jeff Billig) leaving only two options for further consideration. One option involved building a new middle school on the Sunnydale property and a radical expansion of the current high school that created a new high school by combining the existing high school and middle school buildings. This option was commonly referred to as 1C. Building a new high school on the Sunnydale property and renovating the existing high school to become the new middle school was known as 1A (the current plan).
The cost, complexity and risk of cost/schedule over-run for 1C (new middle school) were considered to significantly greater than 1A (new high school) by 4 minority members of the board (Ms. Lynn Weber, Mr. John Auerbach, and Mr. Rick Dumont). Despite those liabilities, there was strong support for 1C by some members of the public and the controlling majority of the board. At that time of the vote, only Mr Wood expressed support for 1A and it seemed likely the board was going to approve 1C. To steer the Board decision away from 1C to 1A, the minority of the board expressed support for 1A. Once this occurred, the rest of the board followed suit.
The final result was a unanimous YES vote for option 1A which is what is frequently referenced. In a separate vote at the same meeting, the board also approved a funding level of $127 million. Months later on November 15, 2018, the Board approved a parameters borrowing resolution for $139 million. Four members of the board (Ms. Lynn Weber, Mr. John Auerbach, and Mr. Rick Dumont) voted NO to both funding resolutions, stating that the long term cost-burden on the school district’s finances and community was too great.