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Chambersburg High expansion costs to be reviewed

November 12, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The Chambersburg School Board last week authorized the administration to proceed with designing an expansion of Chambersburg Area Senior High School, but the $81.7 million price tag and several big budget items are likely to be trimmed before the plans are done.

"There'll be alternative bids on some things, like the pool," Superintendent Joseph Padasak said Friday. "We can whittle that cost down. The question is how much. I don't know."

A $4.5 million indoor pool, an additional $10 million gymnasium and $3.75 million to replace the auditorium could be trimmed from the plans, Padasak said.

"Maybe $50 million is a little light, but definitely not $80 million," Padasak said of the expansion, which will add a three-story academic wing to the half century-old school. The superintendent said he hopes to have the project ready for bids by this time next year, and that it probably would take three years to complete.

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During construction, the school will remain open, with the new wing being added and students transferred to that while the existing structure is renovated, Padasak said. Ninth-grade classes would not be moved from Faust Junior High School until the building, which will hold 2,000 students, is completed.

The secondary school population of the district, however, is expected to be more than 2,000 students. A demographic study commissioned last year projected it will exceed 3,000 by 2015.

Board member Stanley Helman questioned that estimate at last week's board meeting, saying that housing growth is slowing, and the district's student population is less than what the study predicted for this year.

When the board voted 5-4 in favor of expanding the high school in September, the resolution called for spending $50 million on the high school and up to $40 million on a career and technology program for up to 1,000 students. One of the career and technology options was for the district to take over the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, which it shares with five other school districts in the county.

"It's leaning toward Chambersburg running it, providing the other districts have input," Padasak said.

A report on what programs should be offered by the district's career and technology program will be unveiled at the district's December meeting, but Padasak said an announcement on the career and technology center's future could come following the Nov. 16 meeting of the center's Joint Operating Committee, he said.

Chambersburg this year began sending 10th- and 11th-grade career and technology students to the center for both trade courses and academic classes. Next year, those grades and seniors will attend the center along with, possibly, some ninth-graders, Padasak said.

"I think we can get 500 students out there next year," Padasak said. Additional classroom and shop space likely will have to be added to the center in the future, he said.

The board was divided on what the district's secondary plan should be, with some expressing support for building a second high school on 78 acres that the district bought last year for secondary school expansion.

"The belief is the community would not support a second high school," in part because of redundant operational costs, Padasak said. "We took what most people perceive as the most fugal route."

Another question is whether the district can do the high school and career and technology center projects without having to raise taxes to the point that the district would have to put its budget before voters in a referendum. In 2007-08, the district, without going to referendum, can raise taxes 4.02 percent under the Act 1 school property tax reform law, Business Manager Rick Vensel said.

Vensel said it is possible Chambersburg could avoid a referendum for two reasons, one being the district's pre-existing debt, which is exempt from Act 1. In 2004, the board voted to incur debt of $116 million to build a new high school and two elementary schools.

The district since has begun construction of one new elementary school, added a wing to another and is planning construction of another, leaving about $72 million from the $116 million, Vensel said.

Also exempt from Act 1 is 60 percent of the cost of new academic space, Vensel said. The Pennsylvania Department of Education will have to determine whether the projects fit into the Act 1 exclusions, he said.

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