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Board closes in on $116 million school plan

August 26, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg Area School District intends to borrow up to $116 million to finance the construction of a new high school and two elementary schools, just $1 million less than its borrowing capacity.

The Chambersburg Area School Board Wednesday night decided to advertise a debt resolution that will be voted on Sept. 1, two days before a deadline imposed by Pennsylvania's new school property tax reform law that could have required voter approval for new borrowing.

With the money, the district plans to spend up to $83 million for a new high school, more than $13.5 million for one new elementary and about $14.3 million for a second. The borrowing plan also includes $4 million to buy land for the high school and $1 million to purchase land for one of the elementary schools, according to Business Manager Rick Vensel.

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Calculated into the price of each building are estimates on inflation for construction costs and a 5 percent contingency figure for the high school.

The impact on real estate taxes would be an annual average increase of about 1.75 mills beginning in 2005-06 until 2010-11, Vensel said. During discussions last week, when the board was looking at a project costing up to $132.6 million, Vensel said the annual tax increases would extend to 2011-12.

Left undecided at this point is where the two new elementary schools will be built. There appeared to be agreement that one needs to be built north of the borough, either at the site of Grandview Elementary or at another site.

Building a large elementary north of Chambersburg would allow for the closure of the King Street, Mary B. Sharpe and U.L. Gordy schools, while relieving some of the pressure on Hamilton Heights Elementary, which will open the school year Monday with 477 students, board member Craig Musser said.

Musser also advocated a new elementary in the Fayetteville, Pa., area, where growth is expected to be substantial in the next several years.

Board member Renee Sharpe said the district should also consider an expansion of Thaddaeus Stevens Elementary on the south side of Chambersburg. That could allow the district to close the school in Marion, Pa., draw off students from the South Hamilton and Coldbrook schools and create greater diversity in the student population at Stevens, she said.

The new elementary schools would be built using the same model as the New Scotland Elementary due to open later this year, according to Vensel. Musser said that will cut down on the time needed to design the schools.

If the planning process for the new high school begins in earnest by January, Musser estimated it could be open for the 2010-11 school year.

A new Grandview or north end school could open by 2007-08 and a new school in Fayetteville by 2010-11, he said.

What other elementary schools will be closed or renovated and what will be done with the existing high school, Faust Junior High and Chambersburg Area Middle School was not addressed in any detail Wednesday.

"The key is going to be judicial use of the money in the resolution," Musser said.

Michael Lillys of the Philadelphia investment banking firm RBC Dain Rauscher told the board the debt resolution provides "total flexibility." The debt resolution sets a limit on how much debt the district can incur, but does not mandate that it issue bonds for the entire amount.

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