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Chester County Press

Majority of Avon Grove School Board members favor $127 million for school projects

04/16/2018 04:50PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Avon Grove School District's Committee-of-the-Whole held a facilities planning meeting on April 12, the final session in a series as the school board prepares to take a vote on a plan to address Avon Grove's facilities needs.

School board president Tracy Lisi began the meeting by explaining that the goal of the meeting was to reach some sort of agreement on the parameters of spending for the entire project, including new construction and renovation work. Lisi acknowledged the receipt of numerous emails from the community that were in support of the school board authorizing expenditures in the range of $127 million from the local effort.

At the previous meeting, the school board seemed to reach an agreement that the best path forward included the construction of the Sunnyside Road site. At that meeting, four school board members indicated support for spending, at a maximum, $105 million. Other board members were in support of spending more than that because they want to build a high school that will fully meet Avon Grove's needs. In order to maintain a level of funding at $105 million, the

In advance of the meeting, the school board received a funding grid highlighting what each level of funding would translate into in terms of educational space for the building.

As the discussion got underway, school board member Bill Wood said that the district needs to make sure that the project fully meets the district's needs now and for the foreseeable future—they don't want to do something that would require additional expenses in ten years.

School board member John Auerbach, who has consistently spoken about the need to limit costs on the project, said that he was in favor of keeping costs between $102 million and $105 million.

“I think $105 million is an enormous step forward,” Auerbach said, explaining that it is still an amount that the Avon Grove community could afford.

If a new high school is built, then approximately $18 million to $20 million would need to be spent on the current high school building to upgrade its mechanical systems and transform it into the district's middle school. The rest of the money would be spent on the new high school.

Superintendent Christopher Marchese reiterated his concerns about a plan that would reduce the square footage per student too much because it would make the building too tight.

Marchese said that an expenditure in the range of $116 million not only provides for larger classrooms, on average, but it also opens up the common spaces—the gymnasium, auditorium, cafeteria, and library—to ensure that those spaces are large enough to accommodate some growth in enrollment.

Wood said that he felt that it would be foolish not to build core spaces that are larger than the minimum because it would be difficult to expand the core spaces once the building is finished. He noted that there is a lot of residential space in the area that could be developed for housing, which opens up the possibility of unexpected enrollment growth.

After about an hour of conversation, the board got to the point where they were going to take turns offering support for a particular spending level. After months of meetings to discuss facilities planning, the board members' views on the issue had didn't need to be restated.

Marchese implored the school board to not sell the project short. He noted that Avon Grove, in the past, has taken a band-aid approach to the secondary school buildings, and that was no longer sufficient. He noted that 20 years ago, there was a discussion about constructing a new school, but the decisions to renovate both the high school and middle school left the district in a difficult position. Less than ten years after the renovation of the high school, the enrollment had increased to the point where the building was woefully overcrowded.

“We're still struggling with the ramifications of those decisions,” Marchese said.

Marchese pointed out that the plans currently under consideration were scaled back from what was recommended by the district's Facilities Input Group that spent 16 months analyzing the district's facilities needs.

“This plan—at $114 million, $115 million, $127 million is already a compromise,” Marchese said.

School Board members Charles Beatty III and Auerbach both indicated that they were in favor of keeping the funding level at $105 million to start the planning.

“At $127 million, you're going to be (raising taxes) at the Act 1 Index...for the next seven years,” Auerbach said.

Wood said that he is concerned about having to do another project in eight to ten years if the district doesn't do what is necessary with this project.

Echoing Wood's point about making this a long-term solution for the district, school board member Bonnie Wolff said, “Short-sighted planning is going to cost the taxpayers more.” She explained that the district could easily find itself in a position where it would need to undertake another project in less than ten years if they limit the scope of the project that they are planning too much.

School board members Herman Engel and Jeffrey Billig both talked about the need to authorize a level of spending that is necessary to do the project right, and to look for potential cost-savings throughout the design and bid process.

As the board members took their turns stating the level of spending that they supported, the $127 million spending range emerged as the favored level, with Wolff, Wood, Billig, Engel, and Lisi all saying that they felt that that was the level necessary for the project of the scope that the district needs. Beatty, Auerbach, and Rick Dumont all said that they thought the district's needs could be met with $105 million in spending. School board member Lynn Weber said that she thought the school building improvements could be achieved at the $102 million spending level.

Next, the school board discussed a draft resolution that will establish the school's authorization of a project and the parameters for spending. The school board is expected to vote on the plan at its next meeting on Thursday, April 26.