ACT 34 Hearing Progressing Despite Incomplete Information on Project Costs
The Avon Grove School Board met on August 12th to discuss the conduct of an ACT 34 hearing for the building of new high school facilities on the Jennersville property in Penn Township. The purpose of the Act 34 hearing is to present the plans for the new high school to the residents and employees of the District and to provide them with a public forum to express their opinion regarding the project. It is an opportunity for the public to learn about the proposed construction projects and for the Board to receive and record comments and observations regarding the project. The ACT 34 hearing is mandatory for school districts applying for PA state reimbursement of a portion of their building costs (PlanCon).
During the meeting, Mr Auerbach, Ms Weber, and Mr Dumont expressed concerns regarding the timing of the ACT 34 hearing. One of the hearing’s objectives is to present the cost of the project to the public. They questioned how this can be done when we don’t know the costs associated with full requirements from PennDOT and Penn Township that will be needed to gain their approval for the high school project. In addition, the $127 million allocated by the school board for the facilities project includes both building a new high school and renovating/converting the current high school to a middle school. The cost to deliver a functioning middle school for our students has not been detailed. Since the high school project is currently $2 million over budget, this could result in at most $20 million being available for the middle school project. Based on a preliminary assessment of costs for a new roof, new HVAC system, boilers, fire alarms/sprinklers, sewers lines etc, there may not be enough money to repair the auditorium, do a much needed upgrade to the bathrooms, replace floor tiles, make the building ADA compliant, as well as move the main office closer to the main entrance. The amount of money left for the middle school could be even less depending on PennDOT and Penn Township requirements for the high school project. Also, no money has been allocated to repurpose the current middle school. Where will these funds come from?
The school administration continues to progress a multi-faceted project (building a new high school, renovating/converting the current high school to a middle school, and repurposing the current middle school) and has committed to spending no more that $127 million. Plans are being made to discuss the project with the public where many of the costs are known for one part of the project but little is known about the other 2 aspects of the project. Is this responsible management of the school district’s money? It makes more sense for the school district to establish the costs of all aspects of the facilities project first so costs can be managed to remain within the $127 million budget. It is important to remember that tax increases to support the $127 million budget for the facilities projects plus tax increases to run the current school district and support the teacher retirement fund will cost median priced homeowners ($169,600) an additional $900 or more per year in school taxes after the 5th year. This is not an insignificant amount. Many will not be able to afford the tax increase and will be forced to move. Even higher tax increases to deal with budget overruns 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. This should not be allowed to happen.