A campaign is afoot in Peters to either build a new high school or overhaul the existing one.
Members of the township's Parent Teacher Association Area Council confronted school board members Monday night, citing security and safety issues with the high school and urging the board make a decision about the future of the building.
"This is just the beginning" of a campaign to renovate or replace the high school, said Minna Allison, a member of the PTA council who told the board that the council had sent mailers to each household in Peters, seeking input from the community.
"We have issues of overcrowding, and security is a problem" due to the building's design, said Ms. Allison, who urged the board to visit the council's website and view the comments from the public.
The council also posted an online petition a week ago that garnered 248 signatures in four days from community members who want to see a renovation or replacement. For more information, visit www.ptsd.k12.pa.us/pta.aspx.
Lisa Breigel, a member of the council, said the district in 2011 completed a facilities assessment that identified the high school campus as a priority that should be addressed quickly due to steady increases in district enrollment.
Built in 1969 when enrollment was 623 students in grades 9-12, the 234,000-square-foot building was expanded in 1982 to handle an increasing enrollment of 1,165. By 2000, a major renovation project had been completed, and enrollment has since expanded to 1,496. The building's capacity is 1,500 students, which it is expected to surpass by 2015, according to population projections.
With about 22,000 residents, Peters is the most populous municipality in Washington County and has seen population increases of 21 percent in recent years.
Although the district formed a committee in 2011 aimed at studying possible improvements to the high school, no action was taken after taxpayers indicated in a survey that they were not willing to pay higher taxes for building improvements.
"The community never understood why the high school was deficient," Ms. Breigel said.
PTA council members cited examples of overcrowding, such as classrooms so overfilled that desks must be moved aside to allow students to enter the room, and fire and weather drills that are insufficient because all of the students can't fit properly in the hallways.
Not all of the classrooms have windows, said council member Joanne Bates, creating a safety concern because of the lack of a secondary egress. Limited classroom space has resulted in fewer academic offerings, and lab and cafeteria space also is insufficient, she said.
PTA council members urged the board to take action on the high school before any new capital projects are approved and said the community has the resources to afford a major project.
The district has the second lowest real estate tax rate in the county at 100.30 mills, with the highest per capita income and property market values. The income levels in Peters are comparable to Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon, although the quality of the school facilities is far below those in neighboring districts, Ms. Breigel said.
"The question is: Do we have the will?" she said.
Although the school board made no comment about the issue, board finance chairman Thomas McMurray asked the district's bond counselor, Mike Zubasic of PNC Capital Markets, what the district's borrowing limits are in light of a recent $9.07 million bond issue. Mr. Zubasic estimated it would be slightly more than $30 million. The similarly sized Bethel Park School District recently spent $91 million on its new high school to accommodate 1,600 students.
The Peters board voted unanimously Monday to give final approval to the bond issue as part of a debt restructuring that saved the district $365,000 due to lower interest rates. The refinancing also freed $3 million for capital projects.
Also on Monday, the board debated whether it would replace or repair the artificial turf at the high school stadium. Ron Dunleavy, buildings and grounds chairman, said he was told that the surface had reached the end of its useful life at 10 years and would likely need to be replaced. It's unclear what the cost of that project would be, although the township recently spent $1 million to install turf on a similar field in Peterswood Park. The board voted unanimously to prepare bids and proposals for both options.
To save money and encourage more teacher retirements, the board also voted unanimously to lower the optional retirement age from 62 to 60, with a minimum of 30 years of service. A similar initiative last year resulted in about a dozen teacher retirements.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-851-1867.