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District moves on high school upgrade

| Sunday, Sept. 14, 2003

The Baldwin High School class of 1953 ventured back to the school for a reunion this summer. Some things hadn't changed.

"They recognized their lockers," said John Frombach, director of services for the Baldwin-Whitehall School District.

Those old, skinny lockers -- some dating to the school's beginning in 1939 -- joined with small classrooms, narrow corridors, cracked floors, 75-year-old pipes, leaky windows, lack of security and fire protection, and restrooms that don't comply with updated codes are just a short list of the problems facing the aging building.

The school board is looking into massive renovations and additions to the school off Route 51 south. On Wednesday, members voted to submit Plan Con A -- detailed analysis of the current status of the district's properties -- to the state Board of Education. That report is required so the state can decide whether any undue burden is being placed on the taxpayers, Superintendent Charles Faust said.

By sending the report to the state now, the board hopes to avoid complications from a bill being mulled in Harrisburg. Senate Bill 100 would require a voter referendum for school districts proposing property tax increases that outweigh percentage increases in the statewide average weekly wage.

Exceptions to this, however, would include any debt incurred for school construction projects that received Plan Con A approval prior the bill becoming enacted.

The district wanted to speed up the process for state approval in hopes of receiving it before the bill is passed, Faust said.

The board also authorized the district's financial planner to develop a $9.75 million bond sale to be used for the initial phases of the project, which is estimated to cost around $45 million, Faust said. The district's financial planner is suggesting the board issue bonds of $10 million spread over five years to finance the project.

HHSDR Architects/Engineers of Sharon, Mercer County, the school district's contracted architects, surveyed district buildings and also presented conceptual designs to the board Wednesday for a renovations and additions to the high school.

The firm's favored design is a $56.7 million plan that would increase the high school's square footage from 350,000 to 443,000 and increase the building's capacity by 300 students to 2,000 total, said J. Greer Hayden, the company's executive vice president. Classroom space would also increase by 150 to 200 square feet per room, he said.

The plan will keep portions of the building that are in good condition -- like the boiler room, library and kitchen area -- while adding a new pool and gymnasium to complement the existing gymnasium, which would remain, according to the plans. The plan would also move Beall Drive to accommodate additions to the front entrance of the building. Baldwin High School was built in 1939. It was renovated and expanded in 1957, 1964 and 1998. Other renovations took place in 1979, 1985 and 1990.

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