Alternatives suggested for abandoned school project in McKeesport Area
McKeesport Area school director Tom Maglicco has tried since August to stop the district's plans to construct a third new elementary/intermediate school in the district.
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#1 Mar 1, 2012
McKeesport Area school director Tom Maglicco has tried since August to stop the district's plans to construct a third new elementary/intermediate school in the district. Last week he was successful after the board voted 4-3 to abandon the $32 million project.
In making the motion to abandon the project, Mr. Maglicco said he did not believe the district could afford the school and that other less-expensive options are available for providing new or renovated space for the district's students.
He noted that the district was awaiting approval from the state Department of Education on its financial plans for the third school.
"I don't need the [state] to tell us we can't afford it," said Mr. Maglicco, chairman of the board's finance committee.
Mr. Maglicco's motion was not on the agenda and was brought up under the "new business" portion of the meeting. Other than his comments, there was no discussion on the matter.
Mr. Maglicco and directors Patricia Maksin, Terri Kisan and Mary Jane Keller voted in favor of halting the project. Directors Joseph Lopretto, Christopher Halaszynski and Steven Kondrosky were opposed. Directors Mark Holtzman and Trisha Gadson were absent.
Mr. Maglicco made a similar motion to halt the third school in August, but the motion died for lack of a second.
Construction of the third elementary/intermediate school was part of a districtwide reorganization and construction plan that would reduce from five to three the number of buildings serving students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. The school was slated to house about 750 students.
The first of those buildings is Francis McClure, which was created through an addition to the former Francis McClure Intermediate School in White Oak. That school opened in the fall. Groundbreaking was held this month on the second new elementary/intermediate school that is being constructed at the site of the former Cornell Intermediate School in McKeesport. The old Cornell building was razed.
The third elementary/intermediate school was planned for a 25-acre site known as the Bucks Property, adjacent to Penn State Greater Allegheny, which the district planned to take through eminent domain over the objection of owner Robert DeTorre.
Mr. Maglicco spoke out about his concerns with the cost of the districtwide project in August when district officials said the total cost was approaching $80 million.
That total included the nearly $9 million renovation of Francis McClure, the $35 million projected total cost of Cornell and the estimated $32 million cost of the third intermediate/elementary slated for the Bucks Property. Those numbers were made public at the August public hearings on the Cornell and McKeesport buildings.
At that time, Mr. Maglicco argued that the district was already facing a 4-mill tax hike to finance the McClure and Cornell projects and that the hike likely would go higher if the third school was built. At the time, Mr. Maglicco said the board had received permission from the state to raise taxes in increments over several years.
But he noted then that permission had not been given for the third building and said he feared the issue would be forced to a referendum in the community under state Act 1.
#2 Mar 1, 2012
District business manager David Seropian said the district had applied and received permission from the state Education Department to exceed the Act 1 taxing limits for the Cornell project. The department is reviewing the district's PlanCon D documents, which outline the financing and need for tax hikes for the third new school. The district was again seeking an exception to the Act 1 limits.
The district has not yet been given a decision by the state, Mr. Seropian said. He said district officials had not yet notified the state Education Department of last week's vote to abandon the project.
"We are in a 'let's let the dust settle' period right now," Mr. Seropian said, adding that planning work for the third school halted after last week's vote.
"It's a project that's been under design. The motion to abandon the project means that work should cease by all professionals," Mr. Seropian said.
Superintendent Timothy Gabauer said after last week's vote that it was too soon for him to detail any alternative plans for housing the students who would have attended the third elementary/intermediate school because he had not discussed specific plans with the board.
But Mr. Maglicco said alternatives included an addition to Founders Hall, which houses grades 7 and 8, or to White Oak Elementary. He said an addition to Founders Hall, located at the high school campus, could include "much-needed renovations" at the high school and football stadium.
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