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Mercersburg's James Buchanan High needs 'Plan B' for renovation

October 14, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- Brown drinking water tops the list of problems that Tuscarora School District officials say they will fix regardless of whether James Buchanan High School is comprehensively renovated.

More than 72 percent of voters were against spending $35 million to renovate the high school when asked in a special election Sept. 9.

Principal Rodney Benedick took reporters on a tour of the 36-year-old building Monday.

"Overall, the building hasn't been renovated and the cosmetics have not been touched" since the school opened, Benedick said.

Superintendent Rebecca E. Erb said she wants to put together another committee to formulate "Plan B" for renovating the high school, which has about 860 teenagers enrolled in grades nine to 12.

Her ideal committee would include 25 people who felt the project was important but too costly as presented - people like Charlotte Carbaugh from Warren Township.

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"I would vote for it and I know it needs done, but I don't want to lose my farm," Carbaugh said at Monday's school board meeting.

School officials have agreed to remove the pool and other athletic facilities from the overall renovation plan. What remains are roughly $20 million worth of repairs, according to preliminary estimates.

"We'll figure out the minimum way to meet (building) code so that we can fix this building," Erb said. That also will involve trying to increase the amount of reimbursement coming from the state, she said.

Erb said some urgent issues will be tackled even as "Plan B" is being created. Those basic needs - like clean drinking water - would not be reimbursable from the state anyway, she said.

"I don't drink the water, so I'm not going to make the kids drink the water," Benedick said, saying the discoloration comes from rust in pipes.

Preliminarily, school officials said they might take Plan B to voters for a decision in the spring. They expressed concerns about borrowing money in the current economic climate, but acknowledged the situation could change by next summer when they might issue bonds for the project.

Erb and Benedick said they are deeply worried about increased costs at the school with the pending deregulation of the electric industry. The school's mechanical systems rely entirely on electricity.

"Something has to be done to address that," Erb said.

At the beginning of the tour, Benedick pointed out ceiling tiles that were removed to allow condensation to run off the air conditioning system.

"We take the ceiling tiles out at the drippiest points, so they don't get saturated," he said.

Benedick remains very concerned about security. He wants a better entrance and lockers not hidden in alcoves. He allows teenagers to wear coats because of fluctuating temperatures from room to room, but he worries about what they might be hiding in their coats or the water bottles they have been permitted to carry.

Green classroom carpet remains from when the building first opened.

"We try to duct tape it down when the seams come up," Benedick said.

The school district has been criticized by some taxpayers for not maintaining the high school. Benedick said that in the five years he has been principal, he's seen the custodial and maintenance crews working very hard, but they are barely able to keep up with the problems.

That is due to 1,000 people using the building daily in the school year and others using it over the summer and after school, according to Benedick.

"It takes a beating," he said.

The school board recently hired a facilities director.

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