Facilities Planning Meeting*
Committee of the Whole Meeting
April 12, 2018
The School Board met to continue its discussion on school facilities. The objective of the meeting was to agree a spending limit for the project and to review the associated resolutions for the April 26th school board meeting. School Board members include: Ms Tracy Lisi (Chair), Mr John Auerbach, Mr Charles Beatty, Mr Jeff Billig, Mr Rick Dumont, Mr Herman Engel, Ms Lynn Weber, Mr Bill Wood, and Ms Bonnie Wolff. All were present for the discussion.
Spending Limit Discussion
The following is the option that was supported at the last CoW meeting:
Build a New High School (Originally FIG Option 1A)
Estimated Cost = $138 million; scaled down version $102 million
Convert PLES to K-1 grade configuration
Convert AGIS to 2-5 grade configuration
Build new high school (HS) on Sunnyside site
Renovate and convert existing HS to 6-8 middle school (MS)
Abandon/demo/sell existing MS
A scaled down version is achieved by downsizing the new HS and a more modest investment to convert the current HS to a MS.
Mr Wood began the discussion by emphasizing the need to build a HS that will meet the needs of the district for next 20 years. He believes that it is important to maximize the size of the common spaces, e.g. gym, cafeteria, auditorium, hallways, lobby, storage since these spaces would be difficult to expand if additional space is needed in the future. He also believes that this is only possible if the spending limit is $124 million. Mr Auerbach commented that the $102 million spending limit for building a new HS was presented to the school board by FJJ as a viable option. It is now being presented as unacceptable. He reminded the school board that a $102 million spending limit would deliver a HS 20% larger than the current HS and creates a 6-8 grade MS in a school that now serves 4 grades (the current HS).
Mr Engle asked what was the basis for the numbers included in the spending grid.
Superintendent Marchese stated that $105 million is the minimum being considered, $115 million expands the square feet allocated to common spaces, $127 million adds educational improvements to the new MS, and $138 million is the amount originally considered by the Facilities Input Group (FIG). The Administration believes that $127 million is the maximum amount that local effort can support.
Mr Auerbach questioned the need for larger hallways. He noted that in the schools the FIG visited, the hallways were a standard size. Over-crowding wasn’t issue because the schools were large enough to spread the students over a larger area.
Ms Lisi agreed with Mr Wood that we should spend the maximum available ($127 million) so that the administration can deal with increasing student numbers if that should happen. She also wants to include educational improvements when the current HS is converted to a MS as well as be able to build a new stadium on the Sunnyside property.
There were some questions on how a “basic” stadium at a cost of $5 million differs from a “comparable” stadium at a cost of $10 million. A “basic” stadium has stands with 500 seats. There is a track, turf field with limiting fencing, some lights but no press box or portable bleachers. A “comparable” stadium has what is in the basic stadium but also includes lockers, team rooms, public rest rooms, and a ticket booth. FJJ stated that if the district plans to build a new stadium on the Sunnyside site, it should allow for it in the design phase when it agrees the layout for the new HS. Mr Engle then asked about the cost of transporting students from the new HS to the current stadium for games. The cost is $30,000 to transport the students one way. A policy decision would need to be made on whether students will be allowed to drive themselves from the new HS to the current stadium.
In reality the ability to size common areas, hallways, define classroom numbers/sizes and the details of what is or isn’t achievable at a particular funding level will not be clear until the design process begins. The decision is really about how much revenue will be committed to the project at this particular point.
The school board then discussed the spending limit they support:
Mr Auerbach: $105 million
Mr Auerbach stated that this is a significant amount of money that is sufficient to build a new HS and convert the current HS to a 6-8 grade MS.Borrowing money to support the project will put a burden on the residents.Borrowing enough money to support $127 million spending limit is too great a burden for residents and will also put financial pressure on the school district for its other programs.Mr Auerbach is worried that the administration will need to use exceptions to raise taxes even higher than the maximum allowed by PA law via the Act 1 index. This concern was reinforced by the wording including in one of the resolutions suggested by the administration (see below).
Mr Beatty: $105 million
Mr Beatty agreed with Mr Auerbach.He stated that the board should use this amount for the design phase.If additional money is needed, this can be brought back to the board for discussion. He worries that if you start with the maximum amount of available funds, the board will find a way to spend it.
Mr Engel: $127million
Mr Engle had a different approach. He wants to design the project using the maximum amount of money available. If less money is needed, then the amount of money borrowed can be reduced.
Ms Wolff: $127 million
Ms Wolff agreed with Mr Engle.She wants to start high.
Mr Billig: $127 million
He wants to enter into the design phase with the maximum spending limit available.
Mr Wood: $127 million
He wants to design facilities that will address the district’s needs for the next 20 years. It is better to spend the necessary money up front.
Ms Lisi: $127 million
Ms Lisi stated that there is a lot to accomplish with $127million. It will be challenging to address all the needs with this amount.
Mr Dumont: $105 million
Mr Dumont agreed with Mr Auerbach. This is a significant amount of money that can address the needs of the district while trying to manage the financial burden to the residents.
Ms Weber: $102 million
Ms Weber is concerned about the tax burden on residents.$102 million is in-line with a building option initially presented by FJJ.
Based on the feedback from the school board, the budget for the project will be set at the maximum amount of $127 million. It is noteworthy that there was no option specifically defined at $127 million. This number was chosen because it was the maximum recommended by the Administration.
2. Draft Resolutions
Two draft resolutions were reviewed by the school board.
The first draft resolution focused on the education outcomes that will be delivered by building a new HS and converting the current HS to a MS. Mr Auerbach commented on how nebulous some of the items were. There was agreement to delete a reference to “community values” since no one knew what specifically they were. A reference to LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for the renovated building was also deleted since this will not be possible.
The second draft resolution focused on the funding level for the project. Based on the preferences previously stated by the school board, this amount will likely be $127 million. Mr Auerbach questioned the inclusion of the following:
The Board selects the $127 million dollar funding level with the stated goal of remaining within the Act 1 adjusted index limits for the District’s budget, or by employing exceptions that, if approved by PDE, would allow the district to set millage rates accordingly, without requiring referenda.
Mr Auerbach stated that the administration has assured the school board that setting $127 million as the funding limit for the facilities project will not place a burden on the operation of the school. If that is so, why do we need to reference the ability to raise taxes even higher than the Act 1 index via exception in the resolution? Mr Carsley, the Director of Business Administration and the Chief Financial Officer of the school district, stated that you can never know for sure what will happen in the future and it would be best to keep the possibility of using exceptions to raise additional revenue if needed. Mr Auerbach also requested that the administration agree to refund to the residents the additional millage associated with the increased taxes used to fund the facilities. Mr Beatty agreed with Mr Auerbach’s recommendation. Mr Wood stated that this is a decision that should be made by a future school board when the loans are paid. Neither of Mr Auerbach’s recommendations was supported by the majority of the school board.
Mr Auerbach then asked the administration to prepare a plan that describes the renovations that can be completed at the current HS this summer. Superintendent Marchese stated that this is an unrealistic expectation; bids would have needed to go out in the fall to make this possible. The next facilities meeting will begin a discussion on what improvements are needed for the current HS and when these can be accomplished. Mr Auerbach stated that he was disappointed with the response from the administration. The issues with the HS have been discussed for years. We should have been ready to begin making improvements once we knew what was being done with the current HS.
The resolutions will be voted on at the April 26th School Board meeting.
It should be noted that Mr Auerbach, Ms Weber, Mr Dumont, and Mr Beatty originally supported further developing an option that renovated and expanded the current HS as well as removing modular classrooms from all buildings at a $77-80 million spending limit. Since this option was rejected by the rest of the board, they put their support around the option to build a new HS on the Sunnyside site. Mr Auerbach, Ms Weber, Mr Dumont, and Mr Beatty then agreed to support a spending level of $102-105 million based on a cost analysis presented by FJJ at a previous COW meeting. These four school board members continue to express their concerns about the ability of residents to deal with the tax increases associated with these borrowing levels. The rest of the school board supported the maximum spending level of $127 million. School taxes could be increased by 25-30% over the next 7 years to finance the new facilities as well as to continue to operate the current facilities. It could be more if the exceptions to the Act 1 index are used as stated in the proposed draft resolution.
Question and Answer Sessions for the public have been scheduled at 6-7pm on the following dates:
Monday, April 16th at Avon Grove Intermediate School
Thursday, April 19th at the Fred S Engle Middle School
Monday, April 23rd at the Fred S Engle Middle School
It will be a good opportunity to have your questions regarding the new facilities and their associated cost answered.
*Call to Action
It is important that your position on increasing taxes and building new school facilities is heard. It is critical that community members attend upcoming school board meetings and/or send letters via e-mail to the school board and administration to make their position known. The District Calendar can be found here. Watch the district calendar for updates. Information about the board, including E-mail addresses, can be found here.
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