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Group formed to plan James Buchanan High School renovations

February 12, 2008|By ASHLEY HARTMAN

MERCERSBURG, PA. -- When Rebecca Erb took over as superintendent of the Tuscarora School District a year ago, it was clear that something needed to be done about the aging James Buchanan High School.

To formulate a plan to renovate the school, Erb formed a Facilities Steering Committee, which began meeting Jan. 15. The committee's third meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, but was canceled due to inclement weather. All meetings are open to the public.

"I have no question that some work must be done to the high school in the near future," Erb said in a press release about the committee. "This is an opportunity to make sure members of the community take an extensive look at the facility, and identify the building's deficiencies and educational needs, and prioritize those needs for the board."

Mercersburg's 35-year-old high school on Fort Loudon Road has an aging infrastructure, Erb said.

"The most important thing that needs to be done is to replace a worn-out infrastructure -- heating, air conditioning, ventilation, plumbing," Erb said. "We're planning on renovating an existing building, not building a new one. The whole purpose is so the project is informed by the community."

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Other renovation ideas include a classroom addition, updated library and art area, increased circulation and daylight in the building and a new secure entrance. The high school's pool, football field, track area and tennis courts also need to be upgraded, Erb said.

"We're hoping to make the building have an academic core that emphasizes math, science, technology and engineering," Erb said.

The committee is made up of approximately 25 members from the community. Architect Hal Hart from the firm Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates of Mechanicsburg, Pa., leads the meetings, the press release said.

"This is the start of a long process to involve the community in deciding what needs should be addressed at the high school facility," Erb said. "It is my responsibility to develop and present a plan to the community that balances the needs of the future students of this community with the increasing tax burden."

While Erb said the process of planning the high school's renovation is still in the early stages, a preliminary feasibility study estimated the cost would be about $35 million, which is beyond the allowable tax index.

Under Act 1, Pennsylvania's school property tax reform law, each district has to keep tax increases below an inflation index assigned to them by the state. If a proposed budget exceeds that figure and does not have enough qualifying exclusions under the law, it has to be put before voters.

The tax index for the Tuscarora school district is 5.7 percent, according the Pennsylvania Department of Education. This means the district's current mill tax rate of 99.42 mills cannot be raised more than 5.6 mills in the 2008-09 budget, according to Act 1.

"We anticipate to do what needs to be done (for the high school) would go beyond the allowable tax index," Erb said.

The committee will meet three more times this year and after those meetings, Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates will develop some schematics for the renovations and develop options for the school board to consider, Erb said. A referendum vote could take place in September, she said.

If the referendum is passed, the renovations will go through another phase of planning and the project could be out to bid by the spring of 2009. Construction could begin in the summer of 2009, Erb said.

The next meeting of the Facilities Steering Committee is Feb. 26 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the library at James Buchanan High School.

For more information, go to www.tus.k12.pa.us/buildingplan.htm

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