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Schedule is key to Pa. school expansion

June 24, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Timing will be critical in the $73.8 million expansion and renovation of Chambersburg Area Senior High School - from hitting a state deadline in February to moving students as phases of the project are completed.

"We're meeting every Tuesday, and the most difficult issue we're facing is phasing," Business Manager Rick Vensel said of planning for the project. "When do you switch power over? When do you dig the new sewer lines?"

The project is expected to go out for bids in October or November, but the district has to meet a Pennsylvania Department of Education deadline in February before contracts can be awarded, Vensel said.

"We have to have (the plans) approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education the day before we apply for the Act 1 exceptions," Vensel said. Missing that deadline by a day would push the project back an entire year, he said.

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One of the many things Act 1 does is impose caps on tax increases, but it also provides exceptions that districts can use for things such as construction projects to get more cap room without having to put a budget before voters in a referendum.

The project will be one of the first in the state to fall under the requirements of Act 1, and it remains a learning process, Vensel said.

The high school project will be the subject of a presentation at Wednesday's school board meeting at 7 p.m. in the district's administration building, Vensel said. A required public hearing on the project is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 8, he said.

At that hearing, the district will explain the need for the project, describe it and outline the financing, Vensel said.

Despite the complex issues ahead, Superintendent Joseph Padasak said "we're ready to rock 'n' roll" on the school project.

The project has two major elements - $55.3 million for new construction and $18.5 million for renovations.

The first phase includes the construction of a new three-story academic wing along Tolbert Avenue, along with a new gymnasium and renovated auditorium. The new academic wing is scheduled for completion in May 2010, with students moving in for the beginning of the 2010-11 school year.

With students in the new wing, renovations will begin on the existing building, scheduled for completion in August 2011. When expansion and renovations are completed, ninth-grade students, who now attend Faust Junior High School, will move to the high school in 2011-12.

The end result will be a high school more than twice the size of the current school, with a rated capacity of 2,000 students. The school's population was 1,763 in the year that just ended, but that includes only grades 10, 11 and 12. Add in the ninth-graders and the population would have been more than 2,400, according to district figures.

"The school will hold 3,000 if you want to crowd them in," Padasak said, but the district's plans call for increasing the number of students attending the Franklin County Career & Technology Center. This past year, career and technology students from the district began attending the center all year, taking vocational and academic courses.

Padasak said he expects about 400 students will attend the center in 2007-08, with the addition of an introductory career program for ninth-grade students.

"We believe we'll have 500 there in 2008-09," he said.

Chambersburg has proposed to the other five participating school districts - Waynesboro, Greencastle-Antrim, Tuscarora, Shippensburg and Fannett-Metal - that it purchase and run the center, though the other districts have yet to agree.

Once the high school is completed, the district will tackle Chambersburg Area Middle School and Faust Junior High School. Vensel projects renovations to those buildings at $10 million apiece as they are converted into schools for grades six, seven and eight.

The middle school now has grades six and seven in separate wings and Faust grades eight and nine mingled together. The challenge is to make two very different schools as equal as possible in terms of curriculum and facilities, Vensel said.

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