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Concerns over Franklin County career center project outlined at board meeting

July 09, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Two members of the Franklin County (Pa.) Career and Technology Center's joint operating committee expressed concern Tuesday that the planned renovation and expansion of the career center could be stalled as costs escalate for the parties involved.

The method by which the career center would be expanded and adapted to meet modern-day curriculum has changed several times.

First, the Chambersburg Area School District approached the other five school districts involved and asked to buy the career center. Chambersburg officials said they needed space to offer academic classes to their vo-tech students.

However, many members of the Waynesboro Area, Greencastle-Antrim, Tuscarora, Shippensburg Area and Fannett-Metal school boards had reservations about giving up controls related to running the career center. All participating school districts currently have a role in decisions regarding operations.

An alternate proposal developed that would sell Chambersburg 35 acres of land on the career center property, allowing Chambersburg to build an academic wing connected to the career center by a pedestrian walkway. Money from the sale of that land would be put into an escrow account to fund renovations within the existing building.

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That sale was scaled back to 11 acres.

Districts pushed forward with the alternate proposal, but several problems developed recently, according to Stanley Barkdoll, a member of the Waynesboro Area School Board and career center joint operating committee.

Barkdoll said officials discovered that if Chambersburg built its wing and the career center authority (which owns the structure and property) renovated the building separately, setback ordinances in the municipality would require that the buildings be spaced farther apart than desired.

Sixty feet would need to separate the career center and academic wing, according to John Fitz, also a member of both the Waynesboro Area School Board and joint operating committee.

Also, state reimbursement for the project would be lower than desired, Barkdoll and Fitz said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education "doesn't have a mechanism to fund two (separate) projects at the same time so close to each other," Barkdoll said.

As such, the latest plan before the joint operating committee involves the Chambersburg Area School District not only building its academic wing, but also handling the entire $15 million worth of renovations within the school, Barkdoll said.

That would boost Chambersburg's general state aid ratio, which affects its basic education subsidies, and allow a single entity to collect as much reimbursement as possible, Barkdoll said. The renovation would be favorable because the education department likes comprehensive schools, but no revenue would go into an escrow account because no land would be sold, he said.

Barkdoll said that once the project were complete, the authority would own the entire structure and set up two lease agreements - one to Chambersburg for the academic wing and the other to the joint operating committee for the renovated vo-tech classrooms.

That's how things stood three and a half weeks ago at the last joint operating committee meeting, Barkdoll said. All school districts would pay for the classrooms renovation over the course of 15 years, Barkdoll and Fitz said.

"They had the funding worked out," Barkdoll said.

However, subsequent meetings of players involved in the process and subsequent financial analyses have revealed that the cost burden on all school districts might be greater.

"Now the picture's not quite as rosy as we thought it was. There's a lot of work to do," Barkdoll said.

He described the latest plan, then said "all of that may be out the window now."

"This whole thing has changed so many times since it started, what's reimbursable and what's not," Fitz said.

The Chambersburg Area School Board included its career center academic wing when borrowing $116 million for schools construction projects. Chambersburg officials hoped to work at the career center simultaneously with the ongoing renovation and expansion of Chambersburg Area Senior High School.

The Fannett-Metal School Board recently decided to pull out of the joint operating committee, sending about 10 students to the career center annually on a tuition basis starting with the 2009-10 school year.

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