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Crowds opposing Franklin Regional's 'elementary campus' project grow

Patrick Varine
| Tuesday, March 6, 2018, 1:51 p.m.
Architectural renderings of the layout for the Sloan elementary campus project.
Artwork by VEBH Architects
Architectural renderings of the layout for the Sloan elementary campus project.

Maury Fey offered some advice for the Franklin Regional school board about its planned Sloan Elementary campus project .

“Next week, you're going to face the community who have questions about this project, and you're going to try and sell them on it,” Fey said. “Tell us in detail what you're talking about — instead of saying $54 million, tell us how you got there, what it includes.”

Fey and a group of Murrys­ville residents that has grown in size over the past several school board meetings have been asking for more details about the project, which would include the construction of an elementary building at the Sloan campus off Sardis Road and the consolidation of all elementary students into that building as well as a renovated Sloan Elementary. They hope those details will come during a public forum next week at Franklin Regional Senior High School.

“We don't have a large (commercial) tax base, and that's not your fault,” Ed Mittereder told school board members Monday at their committee-of-the-whole meeting. “You have to work with what you have. So that money is going to come from us, the taxpayers.”

Finance director Jon Perry said 80 percent of school district taxes comes from home­owners, with the remaining 20 percent split between commercial and industrial properties.

Perry also estimated that the full cost of the Sloan project could top $100 million, once interest is taken into account.

The full cost encompasses $54 million in principal, divided into four segments.

The first segment, at a cost of $9.995 million, was issued and settled in December.

“It has an associated interest expense of $6.7 million, assuming no refinancing during the life of the bond,” Perry wrote in an email.

The additional three segments total about $44 million in principal, and interest for those is expected to reach just over $40.5 million.

Other residents questioned the 2017 demographic study the district commissioned from former Carnegie Mellon professor Shelby Stewman, who has done similar studies for school districts throughout the state.

Several people mentioned that projections from the state's Department of Education predict a continued drop in enrollment over the next decade. State projections, however, go out only to 2025, the year Stewman predicted a “big turnaround” in enrollment that he said could last until 2040.

Walt Cebulak was less than convinced.

“There's a lot of sociological factors going into (the demographic study), but I don't see anything about the economics that are affecting enrollment in this area,” Cebulak said.

Others felt they should not be made to pay millions of dollars because district officials have not kept up with the maintenance of things such as boilers and roofing.

“I feel like everything has been neglected,” resident Lynn Full said. “Where has the maintenance money been going all these years? Because it doesn't look like it's been going to the buildings.”

School board officials have been up front about previous regimes not keeping up with maintenance but stressed that they can only work with the situation they've been given.

“There's a lot we need to do,” new board member Paul Scheinert said. “I won't deny that.”

“We've weighed all the options. And doing nothing is not an option,” said board member Gregg Neavin. “We're in a spot. We're in a pretty good school district, in an average state, where the education system is falling behind the rest of the world. And our kids deserve better than that.”

The next major discussion about the Sloan Elementary project will be Monday at a town hall meeting set for 6 to 8 p.m. in the cafeteria at Franklin Regional Senior High School, 3200 School Road, Murrysville.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

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