More space needed for growing enrollment at South Fayette High School

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South Fayette School District officials know the high school needs more space — the school's enrollment is projected to grow by 38 percent over the next 10 years.

The type, size and footprint of the expansion will be determined by a feasibility study the school board approved Tuesday.

The board awarded a contract of up to $15,000 to Eckles Architecture & Engineering of New Castle to study options for new and expanded facilities in the high school, which was built in 2003.

The board also requested that construction management firm PJ Dick of Pittsburgh put together a proposal for assisting with the study.

Both firms worked on designing and building the district’s $30 million intermediate school, which opened last year on the Old Oakdale Road campus.

Board President Len Fornella said the study will look at expanding high school classrooms, science and technology labs, hallways, the cafeteria and the auditorium. No cost estimates have been determined for the expansion.

“It’s not that we want to spend money on construction, but we have to,” he said.

The high school is expected to reach capacity around 2015-16, when the number of students is projected to top 800, according to a population report completed this month by demographer Shelby Stewman of Carnegie Mellon University.

High school enrollment is projected to grow by 286 students, or 38 percent, in the next 10 years, reaching 1,068 students by 2023, the report says.

Superintendent Bille Rondinelli said many of those future high school students are currently enrolled in the district's lower grades.

Total district enrollment, from kindergarten to 12th grade, is expected to increase by 372 students over the same decade, with most growth in the middle and high schools, the study says.

The district would be eligible to borrow as much as $30 million to $50 million in the immediate future, said financial adviser Jamie Doyle of Public Financial Management Inc. in Pittsburgh.

“You’re very well-positioned, and the fact that you are a rapidly growing school district works to your benefit when calculating borrowing capacity,” Ms. Doyle said.

The district’s existing bond debt is more than $72 million, according to accountant Stephen Niedenberger of Pittsburgh firm Hosack, Specht, Muetzel & Wood.

“In comparison to other districts, your debt level is pretty high already,” he said.

Mr. Niedenberger presented a clean audit report for the district for the year ending June 30, 2013.

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer:

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