Avon Grove Taxpayers for Responsible Spending


        Citizens, Parents, and Schools working together to bring Avon Grove into the 21st Century!

Avon Grove School Board
Committee of the Whole- Planning and Construction
March 21, 2019

Members of the School Board participated in this meeting and included 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 except Mr Billig.

Meeting Agenda:

Update from the Integration Committee
The team designing the new high school is in the process of a “value engineering” evaluation of the design.  The objective is to look at the project holistically to generate ideas that can increase value by increasing function or by lowering costs. Areas being evaluated are: the floor plan, elevations, various systems, and the site plan. The assessment will be reviewed on April 9th to decide which ideas to implement in the final design. 

Heating and ventilation options are being discussed as well as storm water management plans.  A land development plan is targeted for submission to the Township in April. The submission will follow the old township ordinances since the new ordinances have not been fully approved.. The team is also working on a submission to Penn Dot to define the scope of the required traffic study.  A project of this size is required to evaluate and mitigate the impact of traffic that is generated or redirected to local roads as a result of the change.  Penn DOT has the final say on which roads and intersections will be evaluated.

The budget for the project has been updated in Board docs.  Half of the interim budget is based on actual costs and half is based on square footage. A detailed final budget should be available by mid-June. According to the Construction Management representative the cost of the current design is over-budget though it was never stated by how much.  The size of the building is being reviewed to help reduce costs.  An innovative idea from the design team regarding the science wing of the building has resulted in significant savings (about 20% of the total amount needed).  Items that are possible but not definite (defined as alternatives) include the auxiliary gym, track, and a larger auditorium.

Thirty percent of the design development has been completed for the new high school which included 2 meetings with teachers.  Four to 6 weeks from now will be the point of no return for the design of the new high school.

Systems in the current high school building have been reviewed.  This was done so that the design of the middle school can begin as soon as design work on the new high school is complete. In order to receive Plan Con money for the middle school (PA state government program that reimburses some of the costs for new construction), contracts for the new construction must be signed by June 30, 2021.   

Professional Learning Community (PLC)
Professional Learning Communities are team-oriented gatherings of teachers in a similar subject area.  Their focus in on student outcomes: 1) What do you want students to know; 2) How do you know that the students have learned it; 3) What should you do with the students who have successfully learned it; and 4) What should you do with students that still haven’t learn it.  PLCs are being developed in the current high school.  A PLC Handbook has been developed.  Juniors and seniors are acting as mentors to 20 members of the freshmen class.

Space needs to be allocated in the new high school so that teachers in the same subject area have a place to meet and collaborate in order to address the 4 areas listed above.  There also needs to be small group learning spaces.  An advantage of a teacher not being tied to a particular classroom could open up classrooms for other purposes, effectively increasing the usable capacity of the building by using classrooms more efficiently

Early childhood Development Center

The current high school design includes an area in the center of the first floor for an Early Childhood Development (ECD) Center.  The purpose of the ECD center is to allow interested student to demonstrate their competency in ECD.  Successful students will be able to obtain a CDA (Child Development Associate) certificate so that they could get a job in early child development when they graduate from high school. A CDA program is offered at the technical school; however, some student would prefer staying at the high school while they participated in the CDA program.  They don’t want to give up access to other courses offered by the high school. 

The ECD Center would be designed so that it has a separate entrance from the rest of the high school.  It would include an area for interested high school students to interact with approximately 20 preschoolers aged 3 to 5 yrs (too young for kindergarten) as well as lockers, a food preparation area, a playground, and age-appropriate toilets. Details need to be worked out on how these preschoolers will be selected, how much their families would pay (nominal fee, enough to cover consumable materials), and how many days per week the program would be available.

Mr Auerbach questioned if the ECD center should be considered as an alternative similar to how the school board is considering an auxiliary gym, track, and larger auditorium. The current design is over-budget with the items the high school must have so it is hard to understand why we would be adding additional items that would increase the cost even further.  Mr Dumont pointed out that this initiative would most likely also require new headcount (at least one new teacher).

Members of the school board were reluctant to classify the ECD Center as an alternative which would require the architects to redesign the 1st floor of the high school. 

An argument similar to that used for Full Day Kindergarten is starting to be heard, i.e. “Despite some start-up costs to open the ECD center, in time money will be saved because students interested in ECD will no longer go to the technical school and instead will stay at AG high school.”  FYI – charter school costs for 2019-20 budget have increased from $10,400,000 to $11,390,656 despite promises that the cost would stabilize due to FDK.  In this case 34 students moved into AGSD during 2018-19 that attend the charter school.  Seventeen of these students already attended the charter school but their families recently moved into the AGSD  The cost of educating students at the charter school is also related to the AGSD costs per student by calculation.  As the cost of in AGSD rises, the funding allocated to the charter school also increases.

Mr Auerbach ended the meeting by responding to an article in the Chester County Press which questioned Mr Auerbach’s vote to build the new high school. He stated that alternatives to new construction (e.g. renovation of the current high school) were eliminated during the process by the 5 member majority of the school board leaving only two options for further consideration.  Mr Auerbach explained that he voted for the new high school (Option 1A) in order to stop other members of the board from voting for a new middle school on the Sunnydale property and a new high school on the current property that combined the existing HS and MS buildings (Option 1C).  The cost, complexity and risk of cost/schedule over-runs for Option 1C (new MS) were significantly greater than 1A (new HS).  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 5 member majority of the school board approved a funding level of $127 million.  Months later in November, the same 5 members approved a parameters borrowing resolution for $139 million.  Mr Auerbach voted no to both funding resolutions, stating that the long term cost-burden on the school district’s finances and community was too great.

Mr Auerbach closed his statement by stating that he remains hopeful that school board will be able to implement a solution that addresses the challenges facing AGSD while minimizing the financial impact to the community.  This can only be done by focusing on the needs of our students while rejecting non-essential additions to the project such as a Community Health Center, ECD Center and a duplicate competition stadium.

Next meeting of the Committee of the Whole- Planning and Construction will occur on April 30th at 6:30PM.


*Call to Action
It is important that your voice 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 voice heard.   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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