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Bond counsel for Plum School District to explore Oblock addition, transportation, pension funding options

Michael DiVittorio
| Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, 3:51 p.m.

Plum Borough School District officials last week authorized their bond counsel to explore funding options for a proposed sixth-grade addition at Oblock Junior High.

During its July 26 meeting, the board also instructed Joseph Muscatello, Boenning & Scattergood managing director, to look into bond rates to help pay for about $1.1 million in transportation-related spending and $5 million in pension obligations for the 2016-17 school year.

The district is projected to need between $7 million and $10 million for the Oblock addition.

Board members did not vote on taking out any loans or on approving any related proposals.

Muscatello said he would have the bond rates ready for the board within the next three weeks.

Plum's current elementary schools are K-6, with projected 2016-17 enrollment of 611 students at Holiday Park, 449 at Pivik, 449 at Center and 233 at Regency Park.

Those Regency Park students are temporarily housed at the old Holiday Park Elementary building after plans to build a new Regency Park school were halted last year amid budget concerns from some board members.

There are 596 students projected for Oblock and 1,256 for the high school in 2016-17.

Sixth-graders would move from the elementary schools to Oblock and the Regency students would move into the other elementary schools if the sixth-grade Oblock addition project is approved.

Closing the old Holiday Park building is expected to save the district $890,000 a year.

The Oblock project may not begin until 2017 or 2018. It was unclear how many students would have to be moved.

District officials were working with VEBH Architects for the past four to five months on a plan to improve the district's education model.

After several public meetings, the board narrowed 16 options to two: Build a new Regency Park school or add sixth grade to Oblock.

Daniel Engen, VEBH principal, said the sixth-grade project may cost a minimum of $10 million to $11 million.

A majority of the board supported the Oblock addition at a committee of the whole meeting July 12.

Board member Vicky Roessler supported the project at the July 12 meeting, but said following the July 26 meeting that she needed more information before making a final decision.

“I'm still waiting to see the financial forecast of the school district,” Roessler said.

Board member Sue Caldwell, who also supported the project, said state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale warned the board about taking on additional debt, and the district already has a $4 million deficit.

“I'm not totally sure this is the right option at this time,” board member Steve Schlauch said. “When things improve a little bit maybe we can (add on to Oblock). With the given financial standing, why not ride it out for awhile?”

Residents and parents voiced their concerns about the proposed change at the July 26 meeting.

Resident Bill Chapla said he is concerned about the proposal because of previous construction at Oblock Junior High.

“When they opened it up, it was a disaster,” he said. “There were cost overruns. The contractors ran into a lot of problems. ... I question the integrity of the construction of that building. From day one that roof has leaked. That's a fact. That roof leaks today.”

Chapla said the junior-high wrestling team practices on top of a former Nike missile silo, and there may be other issues if and when construction of the sixth-grade addition begins.

“As soon as you start digging up the ground, who's to say what's under it?” Chapla said. “If you truly want to change the education model, build a whole new junior high. If not, then reconsider the Regency project.”

Regency Park parent Leigh-Anne Weiss said her son will be going into sixth grade and her daughter will be in fourth grade this coming school year.

Weiss said she does not want to see children's education “being shoehorned,” and that the board was making its building decisions based on money, not on what's best for students.

“I just feel that is a very big mistake,” she said. “I feel that the district committed to the K-6 model in building two other elementary schools, and I really think that we need to continue that.”

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367 or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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