ACT 34 Hearing for New High School Facilities
September 12, 2019
Around 40 People commented at the Act 34 meeting with one person pointing out that the entire costs for the project are still not being shown to the taxpayers.
The following members of the school board attended the hearing: Mr. Charles Beatty, Mr. Jeff Billig, Mr. Rick Dumont, Ms. Tracy Lisi, Ms. Lynn Weber, Ms. Bonnie Wolff, and Mr. Bill Wood. The purpose of the Act 34 hearing was to present information regarding the proposed construction of a new high school to the residents and employees of the District and to provide the public with a forum to express their opinion 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). 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.
Link to ACT 34 handbook:
Superintendent Marchese presented the history of the facilities project which started back in 2007 when 153 acres were purchased in the Jennersville area. He described the 4 options considered by the school board which included 2 options to build new facilities (Options 1A/new high school, Option C/new middles school) and 2 options that focused on renovation and expansion of current facilities (Options 1D and 4A). A description of these options can be found on pg 9 of the ACT 34 handbook.
He stated that by a unanimous vote, the school board decided to support Option 1A. He neglected to state that when that school board vote was taken, there were only 2 options for consideration and both included the building of new facilities (Option 1A and C). When it came to a vote on what new facilitys to build, it was Mr Auerbach, Ms Weber, Mr Dumont, and Mr Beatty along with Mr Wood that pushed for the building of a new high school on the Jennersville property instead of the building of a new middle school as was recommended by the Facilities Input Group.
Michael Strohecker from KCBA Architects then presented the design of the new high school. He did not highlight that space for an Early Learning Center is still included in the plans despite the ability of students to take a similar course at the Technical School. He also failed to note that infrastructure for a duplicate competitive stadium is also in the plans though a picture of the stadium was in the design presented to the public. These are definitely “nice to have” components of the new high school and not required to meet the educational objectives of the facilities project, particularly for a project that is currently $2 million over budget.
John Frey, Director of PFM Financial Advisors and Ken Philips, Financial Advisor from RBC Capital Markets described how the school district will pay for the facilities project. They stated that there has been a phased-in approach that started in 2014-15 and will extend to 2042 to pay off the loan (See pg 27 of the ACT 34 handbook). Avon Grove School District has authorized a maximum project cost of $114,568,737 and a maximum building construction cost of $81,101,789 for the new high school. The $114,568,737 includes $8,834,227 already paid by the school district for the site. It does not include $1,900,000 for PennDOT requirements which may not cover all the costs necessary to optimize traffic flow including turning lanes at the site entrances and for the intersection at Route796 and Pennock Bridge Road. In addition, the budget does not cover the costs that will likely emerge in order to obtain Penn Township’s approval for the land development plan.
Indirect costs for the new facilities were also presented (See pg 32 of the ACT 34 handbook). The assumptions seem very optimistic with no increase in costs expected for personnel, materials and supplies, and pupil transportation. Any additional indirect costs are said to be offset by the removal of the modular classrooms.
The meeting ended with over 40 people providing public comment. The majority were parents with children in the school. All but 2 were very positive. Several stated that they didn’t mind the increase in taxes that could be an additional $900 or more per year for a median priced home ($169,600) after the 5th year of tax increases.
One person questioned how the public can have any assurances about the cost of the project when only the costs for the new high school were presented and not the cost for the 2nd part of the project – the conversion of the current high school to a middle school. She stated that 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. 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. She stated that these costs need to be established first 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.
The public can submit comments up to 30 days following the hearing by sending their statements to:
Dr Wendi Lee Kraft, Board Secretary
Avon Grove School District
375 South Jennersville Road
West Grove, PA 19390
All comments must be submitted no later than 4:00 PM on October 14th, 2019. All written comments should include the name and address of the person submitting the comments, identification of the sender as a resident or employee, and a description of the support or objection to the project. These comments will be included in the material forwarded to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for their consideration.