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Connellsville’s schools: Feasibility study outlines what to do with buildings

As construction of a new elementary school in Springfield Township continues, a new feasibility study on district buildings and renovations was presented to the Connellsville Area School Board Wednesday night.

The study, completed by P.J. Dick Inc. and a requirement for the school district every two years, outlined various scenarios the board could consider, including maintaining buildings as they are, moving the vocational-technical school to the high school and administration to the vo-tech, or moving ninth grade to the high school and sixth grade to the two junior highs.

As part of the study, P.J. Dick analyzed enrollment projections and the impact on student capacity, assessment of needs and building conditions, and the cost associated with renovating the district’s buildings.

The study used historical data and an analysis of external factors to determine that the district’s enrollment will either maintain its current level or decrease slightly (3 to 5 percent) by 2011. Jason Day, project engineer at P.J. Dick, said this is very significant.

“This is something that really drives the study, because if enrollment is increasing, the needs will increase as well,” said Day.

He added that projections are subject to change because the external factors analyzed are always changing as well. They include parochial school enrollment and tuition, cyber-schooling and home-schooling, full-day vs. half-day kindergarten, population movement from bordering counties due to property assessment changes, population movement due to current economic hardships both locally and nationally, and the final decision on the Maglev project.

From the enrollment projections, Day said he was able to identify the need for additional space using the Pennsylvania Department of Education maximum class size of 25 and the district’s class size of 22. For instance, the high school’s enrollment in 2002 was 1,391, which is lower than the PDE’s maximum capacity of 1,481, but lower than the district’s at 1,341.

“The high school is pretty full and is being used 100 percent to its capacity,” said Day.

To solve some of the capacity concerns, the study offered an analysis of what it would cost the district to maintain the structure as it is and what it would cost if the grades are realigned.

The district is looking at a low estimate of $67.4 million and high estimate of $97.8 million to make all of the renovations necessary to maintain the grades where they are. Meanwhile, the study estimates a low cost of $70 million and a high cost of $99.7 million to realign the grades, move the vo-tech to the high school and administration to the existing vo-tech.

Although these estimates are lumped together, most likely the renovations would be done as six or seven projects over a period of 10 years. The study identified that the projects with the highest priority would be at the high school and vo-tech, followed by various elementary and/or administration projects.

Carol J. Mulderig, vice president of preconstruction at P.J. Dick, told board members to consider the timeline associated with these projects. Even if the board decided to accept the high school project this year, it would take nine months to a year to design and another two years to build. She said it wouldn’t be able to be occupied until the 2007-08 school year.

Superintendent Gerald Browell said the cost associated with these renovations is unbelievable, but the longer the board delays making decisions on projects, the more the costs could increase.

“We’ve got a lot to think about that’s for sure,” said Browell.

After digesting the information presented, board members were encouraged by President Kevin Lape to bring questions back to Day at the next regular meeting in two weeks. Day asked that board members contact him via e-mail or telephone with questions so he can be prepared to address them at the meeting.


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