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North Star School District may eliminate middle school

April 11, 2019

The North Star School District may eliminate its middle school in Kantner as part of an estimated 10-year renovation project.

Representatives of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates Architects presented five options to school officials at a school board meeting Tuesday. The Mechanicsburg firm estimated that the building projects would cost between $28 million and $80 million over 10 years.

A public meeting is planned to gather input on the proposed project.

Jessie Harder, Crabtree architectural project coordinator, said district buildings have issues that the district needs to address, including a lack of air conditioning, aging boilers and security updates.

“Maintenance is going to be required for the district’s buildings as they currently stand,” she said.

During the meeting Tuesday, administrators and Crabtree representatives recommended a plan to expand the elementary school to include up to the seventh grade and the high school to include the eighth grade. Crabtree estimated that the project would cost at least $35 million over a decade.

Officials said there would be an estimated $450,000 in annual utility savings from merging three buildings into two. There are also potential savings in transportation, staffing and food service costs.

Other options presented by Crabtree included maintaining the three existing buildings at a 10-year cost of $28 million to $32 million. Officials said these options would not address the district’s efficiency problems.

Business manager Brandon Studer said district officials did not set out to eliminate the middle school, but are looking to give students state-of-the-art facilities that will save the district money in the long run.

“Maintaining our three buildings we have currently, we still will spend $28 million to do that and end up with no educational benefit for our students at all,” he said. “If I’m a taxpayer, and we spend $28 million and I come to the district and I see nothing aesthetically changed, I’m asking, ‘Where’s it going?’”

The district spends $2.61 per square foot on utilities for all three buildings. The two-school option would take that cost down to $1.31 per square foot, according to Crabtree. The three buildings total more than 300,000 square feet. Eliminating the middle school would reduce that number to 255,000 square feet.

“Not only is this dropping your utilities in half, we’re also reducing how much square feet you need to keep cool down by 50,000,” Harder said.

High school Principal Thad Kiesnowski said that while he has concerns about merging the buildings, there would be some possibilities for the schools to share more resources.

“From a staffing point of view, it brings up great possibilities,” he said. “Right now it’s very difficult to share staff from the middle school to the high school because you have to put a half an hour into travel time.”

Officials performed a feasibility study to get a sense of the conditions of the district’s buildings, including the middle school, which needs a new roof.

Board members have been considering a roof repair since September 2016 they were told about small leaks in the gymnasium that have since been fixed. Officials said the entire roof will need to be replaced in the next five years.

Crabtree officials recommended temporarily moving prekindergarten through sixth-grade students to the middle and high schools while construction to the elementary school takes place.

“It’s much easier for (contractors),” Harder said. “Their whole crew can come on-site, get to work, and construction duration could drop significantly. Then you are also not worrying about classroom mods or putting temporary trailers in to accommodate those students.”

The proposed project comes as the North Star and Shade-Central City school districts seek state assistance for a feasibility study about a potential consolidation of the two school districts. As of November, Shade had 404 students, while North Star had 1,094.

“It certainly has been factored in, but I guess (the district) needs to figure out what is the forecast on that going to happen versus a forecast for maintaining current district facilities,” North Star solicitor Michael Barbera told board members.

Studer said any plan would require borrowing money — and could possibly mean a tax increase.

“We’re looking at what our potential borrowing power is, and what that’s going to mean (from) a financial standpoint to the district,” he said.

Board members took no action on Crabtree’s plans Tuesday, deciding instead to hold a public meeting to get residents’ thoughts on these projects. Superintendent Louis Lepley said officials are hoping to set up a public meeting in early June to discuss the recommendations with residents.

“These kind of decisions, the public needs to hear it,” he said. “Everyone needs to come together to make a decision that is not going to benefit our students but benefit the community as a whole.”

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