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Chester County Press

Kennett School Board presents building plans at Act 34 hearing

08/22/2023 05:13PM ● By Steven Hoffman
By Chris Barber
The Kennett Consolidated School District board presented its plans for two new elementary school buildings at an Act 34 hearing in a mostly empty room at Mary D. Lang Kindergarten Center on Aug. 14.
Act 34 hearings are public meetings mandated by the state and applied to districts that are planning a significant building project. The hearings are described as a chance for the public to see what is coming and to provide those individuals an opportunity to express their own opinions or ask questions about the details of the project.
Although no one from the public showed up, the board and building contractors proceeded with the meeting twice consecutively that evening: once for New Garden and once for Greenwood. The hearing was publicly broadcast online, officials said.
District CFO Mark Tracy was tasked with introducing the speakers and describing the planning process up to that point. He also announced that this was a review of decisions already arrived at. Nothing new was to be announced that evening.
Tracy said that his personal anticipation of elementary school building projects to replace the current New Garden and Greenwood elementary schools went back many years. In fact, he said, when he was hired by the district in 2001 and toured the buildings, it occurred to him that some day he would be involved Act 34 hearings for those facilities.
Tracy described both schools as “aging” and each is over 55 years old. New Garden was opened in 1957 and Greenwood opened in 1963.
In that connection, Tracy also praised the maintenance crew of the district for keeping the buildings clean and safe all these years. Still, he acknowledged that the time has come to address the building conditions for both schools.
“The district has identified the need to address the capital needs and educational program deficiencies at the aging schools,” he said.
He added that the board is not only thinking of the students in their planning, but the needs of the community as well. “The board has done its best to determine what is best for the community,” he said.
He recounted what the board has done so far in the process: There has been a feasibility study in 2019, an enrollment projection in 2021 and another feasibility study by Breslin Architects in 2022.
Tracy’s first task at the hearing was to call upon legal counsel Colleen Degnan to introduce the legislation that prompts Act 34 hearings.
She was followed by architect Michael Bell of Breslin Architects and Henry Guarriello of D’Huy Engineering, and then a review of financing options by Jamie Doyle.
Bell presented diagrams and sketches of the two new proposed buildings in the successive hearings at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Both elementary school plans showed two adjacent structures each, connected by tunnels and halls. Each school picture had a large program called “public” that had common areas like gyms, offices, and cafeterias. The other structure had classrooms. The tunnels and halls appeared to pass through an open area he said would be appropriate to outdoor education.
Greenwood, in deference to its sloping land, will have a two-story classroom area.
The buildings are scheduled for completion in 2026 with demolition of the old buildings by summer of 2027.
Those new building plans and configurations were selected by the school board over three other options, known as 1, 2, 3a and 3b, during the process the board used to consider a variety of plans.  
Option 1 was a mere upgrade of buildings, while Option 2 was an upgrade with additions. Option 3a was replacement with no increased capacity. Option 3b was replacement with increased student capacity.
Tracy said the choice of new buildings (3b) would have capacity of 750 (over the current 625) and provide uniformity of programs and adaptability for progress.
The board chose the construction of new buildings and the accommodation of more than 100 additional students as the preferred option.
Bell also presented descriptions and sketches of what each building would look like when the project is completed.
Guarriello outlined the costs of the options, saying they are dictated by the designs. He gave estimates of the basic costs and mentioned variations that could add additional fees. During the Act 34 hearing, the maximum cost of each new school was set at $56 million.
Doyle presented three options for financing—general obligation bonds, local authority and State Public School Building Authority. Each option showed paybacks of about $4 million per building per year over 20 years.
School Board President Vicki Gehrt, who presided over the hearing, said the new buildings are being designed for now, but also for the future.
There is still a chance for the public to express opinions and ask questions about the projects. District residents who desire to be heard must the questions/statements on paper which are either mailed first class or delivered by hand to Superintendent Dusty Blakey, Kennett Consolidated School District, 100 E. South St., Kennett Square, PA 19348.