District seeks residents to serve on building panel for new high school

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Planning is underway for construction of a new Thomas Jefferson High School on a vacant 151-acre site the district owns across from the administration building on Old Clairton Road.

West Jefferson Hills school board voted Dec. 3 to establish a construction committee.

Superintendent Michael Panza said he will serve on the committee, along with two school board members, the construction manager, architect, director of facilities and a resident from each of the district's three boroughs: Jefferson Hills, West Elizabeth and Pleasant Hills.

Two of the residents should have extensive experience in construction, engineering and excavation, while the other resident should have teaching experience, he said.

The board will make the final selection on committee members.

Last month, Turner Construction, headquartered Downtown, was hired as construction manager.

The next step, Mr. Panza said, is hiring an architect in March or April to design the building.

The project is scheduled to go out to bid in fall 2015, with a planned opening for students for the 2018-19 school year.

The district was considering three options to modernize its 53-year-old high school at 310 Old Clairton Road: renovate the existing building at a cost of $60 million; build a new high school on the existing school location and convert the site of the old building to parking and other amenities for $72 million; or build a new high school on the newly acquired vacant property, demolish the old building and construct site amenities for $73 million.

The district in June opted for the last option, but the future of the old building has yet to be determined.

"It was the best option as we don't have to disrupt education," Mr. Panza said. "The building is over 50 years old, and the difference between renovations and a new building is pretty close."

The plan is for the stadium and field house to remain as is, but no final decision has been made.

The high school has about 980 students in grades 9-12.

Director of finance Tracy Harris said bond issues, or borrowing, will fund the project over the next five years.

The first bond issue was held last month for $9.9 million.

The plan is to raise the property tax rate to the index allowed by the state, which will vary each year.

For the 2013-14 school year, taxes were raised by 0.39 mill, which cost the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 an additional $39.

It was the first tax increase since 2008.

It has been estimated that the new high school building will cost owners of a $100,000 assessed home about $299 more in taxes over seven years.

"It's a process, and it takes time because we want to do it right," Mr. Panza said.

"That's why the district believes the input of residents and staff and everyone involved is very important," he added. "In the end, it will result in a wonderful facility."

Residents interested in serving on the construction committee should send a resume and letter of intent to Mr. Panza at the administration building, 835 Old Clairton Road, Jefferson Hills.

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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