The monthly workshop of the Southern Huntingdon County School Board was an opportunity for area residents and board members to learn about the feasibility of an option to close one elementary school and renovate two others Wednesday evening.
Superintendent Dwayne Northcraft explained this was done in a response to a question posed at the town hall meeting in July, as administrators and board members want to make sure all options are out there before any decisions are made.
Peter Ortiz of EI Associates of Harrisburg presented the option of closing Rockhill Elementary School and renovating Shade Gap and Spring Farms Elementary Schools.
With this option, the overall project cost would be around $26,438,000, with the district paying around $1,631,000 per year over a 25-year term.
However, the operational expense savings would be around $110,000, so the annual net share, which is the savings of operational costs, plus the cost of the loan, would be around $1,521,260.
He also explained that with this option, they would have to add more on to Spring Farms and Trough Creek to accommodate for the addition of students to each school.
“But, we don’t know where the enrollment bubble will be in the future, so we can’t make one school bigger than the other,” he said.
With this option, they would add a multipurpose room to each building as well as additional classroom space as well as additional parking at each school.
But, Ortiz mentioned that putting in more impervious surfaces at the schools would lead them to deal with stormwater issues, which weren’t a concern when the elementary schools were built 60 years ago.
“Anytime you put in more impervious surfaces, you’ll have to deal with stormwater runoff, which you didn’t have to deal with before at these sites,” said Ortiz.
They also compared these options to the previous options presented, including renovating and adding on to each elementary school. This option would cost $20,215,000, with an annual total share of $1,227,800. Operational expense savings with this option would be around $7,600, with an annual net share of $1,220,000.
The second and third options, which would mean closing the three elementary schools and building one school at the middle school/high school site, whether attached to the middle/high school or detached, would cost $27,638,000, with an annual total share of $1,704,600, annual operational expense savings of $1,063,100 and an annual net share of $641,500 .
Rob Strickler, of Reynolds Energy Services, said they tried to keep inflation in mind with construction costs as well as interest rates, but those costs could change quickly.
Concerns were raised as to whether the costs of maintaining vacated buildings were built into these costs, and Northcraft explained that they were part of the district’s budget, but if they were to close any of the schools, they would hope that by the time it got to that point, they would have a plan in place for the buildings so the district isn’t maintaining them for years.
Board member Frank Hooper asked if taxes would be raised with any of these plans, and would they be hire with the options that involve keeping any of the current elementary schools open.
LuAnne Keebaugh, district business manager, said the taxes would go much higher with the options that involve keeping any of the elementary schools open, and she was hesitant to say they wouldn’t go up, but with the option to close and consolidate, with the net annual share, that can be maintained in the budget.
Northcraft further explained.
“We wouldn’t likely raise taxes (with the option to close and consolidate) for that purpose, but there are other things, like retirement and health insurance, that could cause us to raise taxes, so I don’t like to say that we won’t raise taxes with any option,” he said.
Concerns were also raised with the transportation study that was conducted with the potential option to consolidate, as some students in the Shade Gap area would spend longer on the bus runs to and from school.
One resident thought the times listed on the study were inaccurate. However, Keebaugh said that the times were given by bus drivers.
Hooper also encouraged residents to take in all of the information given and follow up with Northcraft with any questions and concerns.
Solicitor Robin Binder Heath also offered additional information on what will happen when the board votes next week.
“The next step, if the board wants to proceed, is passing a resolution to go forward with the schematics of a project, whatever option they choose,” she said. “They will also pass something acknowledging they received and reviewed the feasibility study.”
After they receive the schematics of whatever option is chosen, then they would vote to go to the design phase, after the design phase approved, then the project would be put out to bid.
During these times, Binder Heath said they can always go back if they don’t like the schematics of a plan and review other schematics.
But, a 780 hearing, which is a hearing required by the state Department of Education when a plan to close a school is on the table, would not take place until the year they plan to do it. After a 780 hearing, a board will then take a vote not sooner than three months later to close any school.
Northcraft explained that while the board will decide on a direction, even though there are a series of votes involving schematics, plans and putting anything out to bid, he understands the public will see any decision as a decision of whether they will be closing any school.