6 turn out for hearing on proposed Freeport Area District middle school

| Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

A state-required public hearing on Monday on Freeport Area School District's $30.8 million proposed middle school building project drew little interest from residents and taxpayers.

Six residents attended, and one parent and one school board member gave testimony following a presentation that included the architectural firm's final site plan and estimated debt service for a $26 million bond to finance the project.

Property taxes likely will increase by 7.74 mills over three years to cover the debt service payments, district Business Manager William Reilly said.

The district's architect, HHSDR Architects and Engineers, noted several recent changes to the final preliminary plans for the project.

Among them were the location and height of the building as well as traffic flow in and out of the campus.

Based on a resident's suggestion at last week's board meeting about the project, the architect designed one driveway between the two schools for parent traffic and another solely for bus traffic. Depending on finances, the district might also add an additional exit from the student parking lot at the high school to Monroe Road.

Additionally, the one-story building is to be located about 200 yards behind the high school. The board settled on the location last week upon determining it would make it easier to build a new high school.

The board previously was considering a two-story building to be located much closer to the current high school.

Board member Christine Davies originally favored the two schools being closer so it would be easier to share staff and for students to get back and forth. But she said it's important to think about the future.

“My vision isn't as good as theirs. I'm more about the here and now,” Davies said after the hearing. “I understand their thinking, and Mr. (Superintendent Chris) DeVivo has said to me that he knows that he will be able to make sure that the students and teachers get to those advanced classes in the other building without any further cost to the tax payers.”

But school board member Frank Prazenica Jr. said in his testimony that he believes the board could have made a more thoughtful decision had the state not imposed a deadline for submission of new building projects.

Gov. Tom Corbett's 2012-13 budget put a moratorium on the state's practice of reimbursing school districts for part of their building project costs. So, to be considered for reimbursement, districts had to submit plans to the state Department of Education by Oct. 1.

Freeport stands to receive $4.4 million from the state reimbursement.

“This was totally unfair to districts. The school board and the administration were pushed into making a quick decision,” said Prazenica, who voted in favor of the district's resolution approving the project. “Our directors and administration have made the best decision they could under the circumstances.”

Prazenica hopes someone from the state will read his testimony and it could lead to change.

“The state needs to make revisions to the Act 34 (public hearing) process to mandate public hearings when construction endeavors are initiated and not when decisions are made,” he said.

The transcript from Monday's hearing and any written comments submitted to the district by March 11 will be sent to the state in accordance with the public school code, which requires districts fully explain details of building projects to the public.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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