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Hampton High School remodeling could benefit learning, safety

| Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Hampton Township School District officials are discussing a potential large-scale remodeling project at the high school that could cost as much as $10 million.

Administrators and school board members hosted a meeting on Jan. 27 with township residents and two architects from VEBH Architects to discuss ideas for remodeling the school.

“We have not made any decisions. We have not spent any money. Even our architect is here pro bono,” Superintendent John Hoover said.

During the presentation, Hampton High School Principal Jeff Finch identified areas of concern that administrators identified and upgrades that could improve energy consumption, security or education at the high school, where there currently are 1,098 students enrolled.

The major areas of improvement include relocating the main office and establishing a captured vestibule to direct visitors directly into the main office to increase safety; consolidating all the guidance services in one site; updating the technology infrastructure; alleviating congested hallways; establishing a project-based learning lab to focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM initiatives; updating the science labs, especially chemistry; and increasing storage for a number of departments. Finch also provided an additional list of areas for improvement.

Tom Durkin and Dan Engen, principals with VEBH, provided a number of architectural options for the various areas of concern to get the board to consider options and generate more questions.

“There is a lot to address, so the question is, ‘Where to now?'” Durkin said. “It might be too soon to talk about numbers; it's very early in the process. The most important aspect of this project is a plan.”

Engen said the architects do not yet have all of the information needed to make suggestions for “quality solutions.”

Durkin said if the school board decides to move forward with exploring the remodeling plan further, administrators and architects first would have to meet with all of the user groups to summarize the educational needs and then develop conceptual studies and alternatives and cost estimates. The administration and school board would have to review that information.

Jeff Kline, director of administrative services for the school district, provided two scenarios for financing the proposed project at a $5 million, $7.5 million and $10 million level with either level debt service or wrap debt service. Level debt service would add a higher dollar amount to the district's annual debt total at a lower interest rate. The wrap debt service would add a lower dollar amount to the annual debt total for the first 17 years of a 20-year loan with a higher interest rate.

The last major high school construction project was during the 1999-2000 school year, which added two wings of classrooms, the large-group-instruction room and a gymnasium to the high school footprint. The district still is paying off the debt from that project.

With the limitations school boards face in raising taxes because of the Act 1 index, which establishes the maximum allowable increase in the property-tax rate, and the increasing costs to the district's mandatory Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement Systems, or PSERS, contribution rate and health care, school boards members expressed some reservations about taking on more debt.

School board members requested a prioritized list of the areas of concern at the high school, as well as a list of other anticipated facility-improvement projects and when they would be needed.

Finch encouraged the school board not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the proposed remodeling project and look at what might be feasible now.

“I hope the big picture doesn't discourage us from pursuing this in part,” Finch said. “I'm afraid of the idea of ‘Let's not look at any of this yet.'”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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