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Penn-Trafford puts cap on high school costs

| Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Penn-Trafford School Board will cap a construction project at the high school to $32 million to avoid raising taxes.

Before unanimously approving that limit on Monday, each board member took a few minutes to explain his or her reasoning for supporting a plan that district officials say can be financed within the district's existing debt structure over a 12-year period.

The district will be able to pay off the work, they say, by rolling over the millage set aside for debts that will expire in the next few years to repay the bonds taken out to cover the high school project.

Board President P. Jay Tray said afterward that the consensus was that the district should do what it could afford without raising taxes, based on comments from residents.

“We think we've come up with a reasonable compromise that's good for our kids and good for our taxpayers,” Tray said.

The $32 million figure matches the estimate for a plan devised by the district's project manager and architect that Penn-Trafford officials publicized in May.

That plan includes plumbing, electrical and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning work; new science labs and remodeling of classrooms; new kitchen equipment and other work in the kitchen and cafeteria; new seats, rigging and acoustical work in the auditorium; library and locker room improvements; better lighting in the parking lots; 66 new parking spaces; and a new bus loop.

Superintendent Thomas Butler said the design of the project should be finished within three to five months, putting the district on track to seek bids in January and start construction next June.

Despite agreeing to spend as much as $32 million, board members lamented that the project will not cover all of the desired improvements, such as a new auxiliary gym that would have cost $3.5 million or upgrades to the swimming pool.

Marty Stovar estimated that $15 million to $17 million of the work is going into “the bones” of the school.

“We won't aesthetically see those changes, but they need to be done,” Stovar said. “That's eating up half of the budget, so, with what's left, there are a lot of great things being done in the classrooms.”

Board member Dallas Leonard, who heads the building and grounds committee, likened the board's direction to a person buying the car that he can afford instead of a flashier model.

He then offered another image of what Penn-Trafford is trying to do without raising taxes.

“We have to try to get 10 gallons of water into a five-gallon bucket,” Leonard said.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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