Residents want James Buchanan High renovation project scaled back

April 29, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- The latest meeting concerning the pending renovation of James Buchanan High School allowed the school board to further look at how various options affect the project's price tag and to address concerns from the public.

The Tuscarora School Board will depend on taxpayer support during this effort like never before. Pennsylvania's Act 1 of 2006 requires that the school board go to voters with a special referendum question seeking approval to pay for the renovations.

This September, the board might be asking for as much as $42.2 million, which would translate into approximately $326 in additional property taxes for the average homeowner each year for 30 years.

"We're here for the purpose to have a transparent discussion for moving ahead," Tuscarora Superintendent Rebecca E. Erb said in describing Monday's meeting.


The board hosted tours of the 35-year-old high school this weekend and has another discussion meeting scheduled for May 12 in the auditorium.

Public comment has pushed for assurances that a renovated school would be well-maintained, with some people charging that the existing building has been neglected.

Board President Jane Rice said the board has developed a job description to hire a new districtwide building and grounds supervisor.

The board took criticism about the scope of the project, which might involve an expansion of the existing pool or construction of a new one. Renovated tennis courts and an overhauled football field also have been tentatively included in the project.

"I think we need to trim our project to education. I think we could probably live without a pool, and I think we're the only district that has a pool," resident Russell Yeakley said. "Maybe we need a track, I don't know, and maybe we need tennis courts, but I sincerely doubt it."

Sherri Moats of Mercersburg addressed the inequity in county home assessments and pointed out the property-tax impact for new houses.

"If (the real estate mill rate) raises any more, it's really going to put the new homebuyers where we'll have to move and you'll have a lot of empty houses sitting around. A pool is not necessary in my book, education is," said Moats, who said she built her home 10 years ago.

"My taxes increased 4 1/2 times over what I was paying in Washington County," said Eldon Lehman, who built his Claylick, Pa., home two years ago.

Board member Daryl S. Hunsberger, who is an assistant high school principal in Washington County, cautioned that reality is that, for some students, programs like music and football are what keep them in schools. Often, he said, elective classes are the ones that generate excitement about learning within the student body.

St. Thomas, Pa., resident Larry Tinberg questioned what the school board will do if the funding referendum vote fails.

State law provides for a 155-day "mandatory cooling off period," district Business Manager Rick Kerr said.

He said the board could tap into capital reserves fund to do a limited amount of renovations provided for in an old construction contract. That would take up-front money that Kerr argued the district doesn't have.

"There are a couple options, but none of them are very good at this point," Kerr said.

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The issue: The Tuscarora School Board is considering starting a renovation project at James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa.

What happened: Mechanicsburg, Pa., architects have drawn up early plans and presented several project costs based on different wish lists.

What's next: School board discussions eventually will settle on what options are to be included in the renovation. A dollar figure capping the project cost will be put before district voters, possibly this fall.

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