Butler Area School District to study facilities

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Butler Area School District is embarking on a study of its buildings and the district's shrinking demographics.

Like most school districts in Western Pennsylvania, the district has experienced declining enrollment in the past decade.

The district now has 14 schools and an enrollment of about 7,300, compared to enrollment of about 8,300 in 2003. It faces the prospect of closing schools, said Michael Strutt, the district's superintendant.

“In reality, there will schools that be closed. But when you talk about closing schools, it is a very emotional thing. Parents almost never want that to happen, no matter what the circumstances are,” Strutt said.

The earliest the district could shut any school would be in the 2015-16 school year.

By the 2018-19 school year, the Pennsylvania Department of Education projects, the district will have an enrollment of 6,912.

Last month, the district's school board voted to hire Thomas and Williamson, a Ross construction management firm, to conduct a 17-month study of the district's facilities.

The vote, based on the recommendation of Strutt and other district administrators, will cost no more than $144,000.

Yet some school board members question the study's cost and length.

The prices for the study ranged from $33,000 to $199,000, said Cathy Rodgers, the district's director of business services.

Bill Halle, one of three board members who voted against the district's recommendation, said he was concerned about the study's expense. Halle said the district needs to close three or four elementary schools.

“We are running out of money now. We will have to raise taxes. We already have a deficit of $2 million,” Halle said, who also objects to the length of the study.

The district's annual budget is about $94 million. It has about $7 million in various accounts.

“The bottom line for me is not just the cost but the length of time. We are looking at two years down the road before we can do anything. This does not have to take 17 months,” he said.

Four members of the school board are running for election in November.

Halle said he will reintroduce a proposal to get a less costly company to do the study, depending on the outcome of the election.

Strutt said he recommended Thomas and Williamson because it is not an architectural firm.

“There were less expensive architectural firms who could have done studies. Their process was not as detailed, and it's common for architectural firms to recommend additions to or renovations of existing buildings. We have no need for renovations or additions,” he said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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