South Fayette officials discuss expansion at high school to meet growth

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As student enrollment grows, so must South Fayette High School.

District officials are starting to discuss the need to expand the building, which is pinched for room and will be too small for the student population in about three years.

By the time this fall's freshmen become seniors, the high school will have reached capacity, officials said Tuesday.

The high school already is squeezed for space in areas such as the cafeteria, auditorium, science labs and hallways, Superintendent Billie Rondinelli said.

Board member Alan Vezzi said the board has been mulling over measures to adapt, such as replacing display cases with additional lockers.

"We're going to run out of classroom space very quickly," he said.

On the same Old Oakdale Road campus as the high school, the district is constructing a $30 million intermediate school for grades 3 to 5 to accommodate enrollment growth in the younger grades. The opening is planned for Aug. 10.

Finance director Brian Tony said enrollment grew by 34 percent from 2001 to 2009, making it the state's fastest growing school district by percentage, according to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.

In a 2011 population study, demographer Shelby Stewman predicted high school enrollment would rise by 390 students over 10 years.

Board member Len Fornella said the building -- designed to fit about 800 students when it was built in 2003 -- had open space -- but it has been used. The dilemma for the future is larger classes coming up from the elementary and middle schools, he said.

Enrollment will continue to rise, board vice president Teresa Burroughs said.

"We have new homes, new children, coming to the district," she said.

About 400 new homes have been built in South Fayette since 2009, Mr. Tony said.

The school board will discuss possible high school expansion over the coming year and consider whether to complete a feasibility study, board president Bill Newcomer said.

The budget for the 2013-14 school year does not earmark money for a high school study or expansion.

Board members voted Tuesday to approve a $41.43 million spending plan and a property tax rate of 24.7126 mills. The vote was 7-1, with Bill Sray voting no and Alexander Czaplicki absent.

The tax rate includes a 0.8112-mill increase that will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $81 a year.

Individual tax bills may rise or fall due to Allegheny County reassessments.

The district was required to drop the base tax rate by nearly 5 mills -- from 28.8241 mills to 23.9014 mills -- to avoid a revenue windfall from higher assessments and to create a revenue-neutral millage rate.

With approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the board then voted to increase the property tax rate by the district's allowed index of 2.1 percent -- or 0.5019 mills -- for general expenses, plus 0.3093 mills to help cover state-mandated contributions to the Public School Employees' Retirement System.

Also this month, the board approved refinancing $8.24 million in debt to save more than $908,000 over the next 13 years.

education - neigh_west

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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