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Uniontown, Laurel Highlands meet to discuss plans for vo-tech

| Friday, Jan. 29, 2010

Laurel Highlands and Uniontown Area school boards are exploring their options regarding the Fayette County Area Vocational Technical School, which could include separating from the facility.

The two boards met Thursday.

Students from Laurel Highlands, Uniontown, Albert Gallatin and Brownsville are enrolled at FCAVTS.

Laurel Highlands and Uniontown make up 57 percent of the students. Laurel Highlands provides about 38 percent of contributions to the technical school's capital expenditures; Uniontown contributes nearly 31 percent.

For this year, the cost for each school district to send a student to the technical school is $6,705. Laurel Highlands sends 95 students; Uniontown has 171 students.

FCAVTS officials are studying plans for either renovating or building a new school. Both options would cost school districts.

With Uniontown and Laurel Highlands working on renovation and building projects of their own, officials at both districts wanted to review their options in relation to their involvement with the vocational school.

FCAVTS officials have five options in front of them. The lowest cost is to renovate the existing 98,615 square feet of the school at a cost of $18.6 million with an estimated total reimbursement from the Pennsylvania Department of Education of $4.8 million. The reimbursement is calculated and based on participating market value. Laurel Highlands would pay $5.16 million for that project, and Uniontown would pay $4.2 million.

The highest cost would be the option to construct an 89,082-square-foot facility at a cost of $21.9 million with a reimbursement of $4.2 million. With the reimbursement calculated and based on participating market value, Laurel Highlands would pay $6.6 million, and Uniontown would pay $5.4 million.

"Believe me, both school districts are satisfied with the quality of education at the current facility, but we have a dilemma," said Charles Machesky, superintendent of the Uniontown Area School District.

While no costs have yet to be figured and compared, the two school districts presented their own options that would include remaining at the same FCAVTS building with the renovations, build a new building with participation from all four districts or a new facility for Laurel Highlands and Uniontown either at the current site or a new site at Penn State Fayette or somewhere else. There was a third option for Laurel Highlands and Uniontown to each provide five to eight programs at the site of the high schools with students at both schools being able to attend either site.

Those 10 to 16 programs between the two schools could very well offer up-to-date and high-priority occupations program such as natural gas production, criminal justice, robotics training and electrical engineering.

There were many questions by directors from both school boards, but Machesky said there are a lot of questions that cannot be answered. He said the purpose of last night's meeting was to look into options.

"Is the consensus to examine or not to examine?" Machesky said, adding that there is no hurry to come to any decision.

Machesky said there is no debt between either school district and FCAVTS, and the Articles of Agreement expired about two years ago, and last night was the right time to begin the process of exploring options.

Machesky said the FCAVTS staff should also have some say about what happens as their jobs could be on the line.

One FCAVTS instructor who attended yesterday's meeting said faculty and students are concerned.

The 14 school board directors unanimously voted to put together a committee composed of Uniontown and Laurel Highlands school board directors as well as a representative from FCAVTS to explore options. These will be presented to both school boards.

Information will be gathered from students, teachers, parents and district officials before a decision is made.

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