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Board hears final report on center's future

March 29, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Much of what the administration of the Chambersburg Area School District proposes accomplishing at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center likely would require the district to purchase the property and possibly resort to a referendum to get taxpayer approval to pay for its expansion and operation.

The school board on Wednesday night heard presentations on the final program report for the center, as well as a facility study and appraisal report on the center.

The facility study estimates the cost of renovating and expanding the building at as much as $47 million for construction and equipment, architect Paul Taylor said. Additions would include an academic wing and gymnasium, along with an expanded cafeteria, health services instruction area, and construction and automotive trades area.

The academic wing would accommodate up to 1,000 Chambersburg students, plus 100 students from other districts who could be allowed to take both career and academic courses at the school, according to the study. Half of the 1,100 students would attend academic courses in the morning and career courses in the afternoon and vice versa, Taylor said.

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The school also would have capacity for several hundred more students from other participating districts who would be there only for career instruction, according to the study.

"Is that a reasonable target for us now?" board member Renee Sharpe asked. She questioned whether the district will have that many students enrolled in career education five to seven years down the road.

Consultant Tom Winters told the board the center's attendance policy should split students' days between academic and career instruction, an experiment the district tried last year before being forced by the center's Joint Operating Committee to abandon the system.

Chambersburg vocational students now spend the entire year at the center, while the other five districts send students to the center for a semester at a time.

"None of the other school districts can easily do half-day about" because of the distance to the center from their high schools, board member Joel Happel said.

Though the center is operated by six school districts under a set of articles of agreement, the building and land it sits on are owned by an independent authority created by the districts.

"To spend bond money, the district must have ownership of the property," school district solicitor Jan Sulcove said. "If we're going to do the borrowing, we're going to have to have control of the real estate."

Board President Thomas Orndorf questioned whether the district could afford to buy and expand the center with the debt it voted to incur in 2004 for school construction. If the district had to borrow more, that could trigger a voter referendum on a budget under Pennsylvania's Act 1, he said.

Changing the articles of agreement that govern operation of the center also would require all six school boards to approve the plan, Sulcove said.

The administration originally wanted the other school districts to approve a plan for Chambersburg to take over the center by April 1, but the business plan still is being developed.

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