COMMENTARY: School renovation decisions to come

Staff Writer
Echo Pilot

During the next several months, the Greencastle-Antrim School Board of Directors will make decisions regarding the school renovation and the operational budget for 2011-12.  The intent of this article is to share some relevant information with the community.

First, we have a school district that is recognized for its excellence. This is to the credit of past and present administration, teachers, school staff, directors, taxpayers and countless ways the community has supported the students and school district.  In the Dec. 17 issue there was an article in School Leader News that listed the teacher-student ratio.  The average for all Pennsylvania school districts was 13.2 students for every teacher.  The ratio for Greencastle-Antrim is 17.1. To meet the state average, we would have to add 51 teachers.  To accomplish excellence the district has been prudent and disciplined in using financial resources.

We currently have a shortage of space in the high school and middle school.  It is not an option to maintain the status quo.  Building projects require three years.  If we postpone the renovation, then there will be a need to purchase up to 10 temporary classrooms.  Those familiar with this option know the installation and purchase of these classrooms is expensive with little value remaining after five years.

The mechanical equipment in the high school and middle school will need to be replaced over the next five years because of age.  The cost based on the renovation projection is estimated to be $ 7-8 million.

Combined, temporary classrooms and mechanical replacement will necessitate a mill increase of 6 to 8 mills.  At the end of the five year period, there will still be a need for a renovation project.  By incorporating the mechanical replacement with a building renovation, the cost will mean a 4.1 mill increase in 2011-12 and another 4.1 in 2012-13.  Instead of investing money in temporary classrooms we are paying for permanent classrooms bid based on 2011 dollars.

The price of a bond today is attractive based on a low rate of interest. The cost of school construction is reported to be 20 percent lower than 2008 levels.  This could mean a savings of $3 to 4 million for the renovation project.  In addition we will have the opportunity to get a portion of our mechanical upgrades funded with state funds through this consolidation.  We won't know the costs and aid potential until the bids are finalized.  No one can predict what the bond rates will be in three to five years.  No one can predict what construction costs will be.  It seems reasonable to conclude that both will be higher.  In fact, the renovation cost for the addition may be $10 million more in another five years based on historical patterns.

What is the most cost effective decision to the district as well as the taxpayers?  What is the best use of taxpayer dollars? As we continue the Plan Con steps that are required, more information will be available.  Obviously the state of the economy and how these projects could impact fixed incomes as well as other residential and commercial taxpayers now and in the future are also an important consideration.  School board meetings are open to the public. Citizens have an opportunity to speak based on board policies that have been established. The board meets the first and third Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. in the middle school library.