The Progress; by
Jeff Corcino, Staff Writer
The Clearfield Area Board of School Directors continued to look for ways to reduce the cost of its building project at the high school, at its committee meetings last night. The district is considering a $35 million renovation and expansion project at the high school that would allow it to move its administrative offices and the 7th and 8th grades into the building and close the middle school. State reimbursement of $13.4 million would reduce the cost to the district to about $31 million. The board is also considering an $8.9 million expansion to Clearfield Elementary School to allow the district to consolidate all of its elementary schools into the building. State reimbursement of $2.8 million would reduce the cost to $6.1 million. The district is considering constructing a maintenance building on the high school grounds at a cost of $719,000.
The board asked former interim Superintendent Dr. J. Thomas Frantz to look at the project and give some suggestions on possible ways to reduce costs because Frantz has had experience with building projects while serving as superintendent in the Punxsutawney School District. Frantz was asked to review the project after several board members expressed concerns about the cost of the project at last month's meeting. Board President Dave Glass said he and several board members, along with Superintendent Dr. Thomas Otto, met with Frantz on Wednesday to go over the project. Frantz said he approved of the project and believed consolidating down to two buildings was the most efficient option because it allows the district to have less duplication of services allowing it to reduce staff. "It's an excellent design," Frantz said. "It is a good use of a plan." He also said doing the projects at the same time could also save on costs by having the same project manager for both projects. He said he liked everything in the elementary school project and didn't have anything more to add to it. Frantz also said liked the design of the new addition at the high school, especially how it kept the 7th and 8th grade students largely separated from the high school students and how the old auxiliary gymnasium would be converted into space for the district offices.
He did offer a few suggestions on ways the cost of the project could be reduced. Frantz said the district has to be careful not to overbuild but also not to go too cheap and regret it later. He said when looking at the district's student population projections, Frantz said the district could use its space more efficiently and reduce the number of new classrooms by five in the new addition. This would allow the district to remove the three story addition planned at the end of the 8th grade wing that would have housed the life skills classrooms, the chemistry labs and the technology department and move these areas to different locations in the building. If this were implemented, District architect J. Greer Hayden of HHSDR of Sharon said it would reduce the cost of the project by $2.69 million. Frantz also recommended keeping the school's planetarium saying it is a valuable tool and can also be used as a classroom as well. Otto said he met with high school Principal Kevin Wallace, middle school Principal Fred Redden, and Thomas Mohney, director of special education and toured the building to see if this was possible. After going over the recommendations, Wallace, Redden, and Mohney all said they supported Frantz's recommendations and agreed it would work. Frantz said other possible areas the district could save would be to reduce the seating capacity in the new auxiliary gymnasium from 1,000 to 500 and to reduce the number of principals' offices from four to three, noting he isn't sure the district would need four principals in the building and perhaps could get by with one principal and two assistant principals. However, Otto said reducing the size of the gymnasium might leave them with insufficient space for such things as musical instruments and band equipment. Glass said the board has made no determination on how many principals would be needed in the new school but said all district staff know they are looking at downsizing to save funds. Hayden said reducing the size of the administrative offices would save about $100,000, downsizing the gymnasium would save $306,000, and eliminating school-wide air conditioning in favor of partial air conditioning would save $600,000.
Under the partial air conditioning plan, Hayden said only portions of the building would receive air conditioning such as the technology and computer rooms, offices and library leaving the rest of the building and classrooms without air conditioning. But, Wallace noted, that there have been times this year that temperatures have reached 95 degrees inside classrooms. Glass asked Hayden that if the board approves these plans next week, if further changes could be made during the design process. Hayden said if the board approves the plan, the next step would be the design development phase, which is very dynamic and said significant changes could easily be made. However, he said after the design development phase, further changes could incur greater expenses. Hayden said the entire design process and getting state approval takes about a year and said if the board chooses to move forward, they could start construction next summer. He said it would take about a year for construction on the elementary school project to be completed and about a year and a half for the high school project. Hayden also said this is the opportune time to be undertaking such a project because construction prices are still very low because of the sluggish economy. District Business Administrator Sam Maney also said interest rates remain extremely low making it a very good time to finance such a project. Glass said the board would be voting on the
plans at next week's board meeting.