Uncertainty clouds proposal to upgrade Penn-Trafford High School

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The overhaul of the 41-year-old Penn-Trafford High School is in limbo -- again -- as school officials weigh funding options for the estimated $32.3 million project.

There is even talk that the project could be put on hold.

"I'm uncomfortable that there's so many uncertainties right now, and I don't want to put all of our eggs in one basket," business manager Brett Lago said Monday after directors asked his opinion on which of four financing options he recommended for the proposed renovation.

Mr. Lago commented after interim superintendent Matt Harris again reviewed four options that were presented to the board last month by two financial consultants hired by the district.

These are the four options presented to the district: finance the project over 17½ years with no tax hike; spread financing over 12 years with a tax increase of 1 mill each year for two years; borrow $10 million per year to fund smaller projects with no tax increase; do nothing now and re-evaluate a comprehensive plan for the district's future.

Director Richard Niemiec introduced a fifth option that would entail funding the project over 25 years, giving the board the option to raise taxes in the future after concerns are addressed about payments to the employee retirement fund and a new teachers contract.

Mr. Niemiec also said the district has debated consolidating schools and relocating the administration building to the high school, both moves that could free up money in the future.

According to Mr. Lago, if the district was intent on moving forward with the high school renovation, he would favor Mr. Niemiec's plan. However, he said, he believes the project, which has been years in the making, should be placed on hold because the current plan doesn't address all of the district's needs and the board's wants.

The proposed renovations at the high school are expected to include updated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems; additional science labs; auditorium upgrades; the addition of 66 parking spaces; and improved cafeteria and kitchen equipment.

However, Mr. Lago pointed out that the plan does not include improvements to the school's boiler system, lights or gymnasium, all of which the board had previously agreed needed to be addressed.

He also emphasized that the plan does not include relocation of the administrative offices to the high school.

If relocation of the administration building, on Route 993 in Harrison City, is a possibility, Mr. Lago said, it should be incorporated now into the high school plan.

"I'll go with whatever you decide," he said. "But we need to move forward one way or another."

The board said it will study the options and vote at its business meeting Monday night.

Linda Metz, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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