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Franklin Regional repairs could cost up to $97 million

Patrick Varine
| Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, 3:39 p.m.

Architects studying the state of Franklin Regional's buildings said they could need between $73 million and $97 million of work within the next 10 years.

From roofing at the end of its life to outdated electrical systems and mechanical units, the district's five schools and stadium need major updates because of what director John Koury called a “Band-Aid mentality.”

“I've been here 26 years, and I've been on the school board before,” said Koury, who is heading the study along with Mt. Lebanon-based VEBH Architects. “The mentality has been, ‘We can't afford to spend this money right now; let's just Band-Aid it and move on.'”

He noted that at Sloan Elementary, yellow curbing has separated from the asphalt in several spots. It is patched with filler material to ensure students don't trip.

“This is the ‘fix-it' mentality we've had to sort of survive and get by,” Koury said.

The architects estimated it could cost at least $73 million simply to maintain the buildings in their current state.

“The cost of the status quo keeps going up the longer you wait,” Koury said. “As a board, we saw that and started thinking about what's the smart thing to do.”

President Larry Borland said previous school boards and administrations “have done an incredible job of maintaining this campus in a thrifty fashion, but it's like an old car,” he said. “You reach a point where you say, ‘Do we keep fixing the motor or do we replace it entirely?'”

District and VEBH officials visited schools in districts that are similar in population and demographics — South Fayette, Pine-Richland, Moon, Freedom and Montour — to see what features they might consider to remain among the region's top education centers.

Board members and district residents alike were surprised at the potential cost.

“When you start to go through this place with a fine-toothed comb, you start to notice things you don't see in the course of everyday life,” board member Gregg Neavin said. “Seventy-five, $80, $90 million is shocking to me, but we're not talking about doing it all at once.”

The architects categorized improvements by the time frame of when they will become necessary: within five years, from five and 10 years, and beyond 10 years. The majority fell within the next five to 10 years.

The district's annual capital improvement budget varies, but is typically about $2 million, according to Superintendent Jamie Piraino.

“Past boards and facilities managers did some really good things to keep that capital fund rolling,” he said. “The problem now is we're approaching a point where it can't keep up.”

The district's last major renovation was in the late 1990s.

“Within that time frame, this equipment has lasted a long time,” Piraino said.

Some residents questioned why more improvements had not been made in the past two decades to keep the cost of a major renovation down. Koury said the study didn't address that point.

“Honestly, it doesn't matter,” he said. “We're at where we're at, and what do we need to do going forward?”

Piraino said the cost of improvements ultimately is an investment.

“I don't want anyone to pay higher taxes,” he said. “But if the school system is not competitive, home values start to tank, because people — at least those with families — don't want to be here. … We need to make decisions that are looking to the future but are also responsible to the taxpayers.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 724-850-2862 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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