by Jonathan Weaver
One of the big questions for the community associated with the new Armstrong School District junior-senior high school – “How much will it cost?” was answered by experts last night.
L.R. Kimball and Reynolds Construction Management officials project the new school, situated on a 68-acre property off Buffington Road in Manor Township – will cost about $58.7 million.
That figure – which is well-under the $80 million Build America Bond issued in 2010 – does not include any athletic facilities, which according to Senior Pre-Construction Manager Walt Tack would cost approximately $3.7 million for a football stadium, six tennis courts and a lighted baseball/softball field.
The bond was originally borrowed for Kittanning, Ford City and Elderton High School building projects.
Construction would cost about $50 million, with the $8.7 million attributed to soft costs, such as professional fees, contingency and permits.
Project Manager Brian Hayes said a lot has happened during the past two months and designs are on-track to be completed by December.
“The project is still on-schedule. The intent is to have the building open for the fall 2015 school year,” Hayes said. “In order to meet that target, we need to start construction in the spring of 2013, so we want to go out-to-bid in January.”
In the past two months, architects have re-configured the parking alignment, proposing to have buses park diagonally, and have moved such about 100 feet farther from a gas well on-site.
To discuss more of the pending community impact, L.R. Kimball and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has set the Act 34 Public Hearing for the project for Wednesday, September 5. That meeting will tentatively be held in the Kittanning Senior High School’s Performing Arts Center, pending a final vote by the school board Monday at their regular meeting.
School directors will also vote Monday on whether perform a $31,000 traffic study through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). Some of the construction contingencies allow $400,000 for improvements along Route 422 and a new access road.
In other business, Superintendent Stan Chapp responded to a question by Region III Board Director D. Royce Smeltzer regarding the District’s cooperation in the South Bend Township secession effort or move to the Apollo-Ridge School District.
“At this point, we provide Apollo-Ridge with any student information they have asked for, any costs associated with any students for special education programs, all financial and debt information specific to South Bend Township for calculations of bond debt that would need to be assumed by the Apollo-Ridge School District and our transportation director has been in contact with his counterpart to look at the compatibility of software so the bus run information would be available if the time would come to make those transitions,” Chapp said. “I don’t think at this point there’s anything more we can provide to the Apollo-Ridge School District.”
Chapp added he has not received anything to-date from PDE declaring South Bend Township an independent school district.
Board Vice-President Christopher Choncek – who led the meeting in President Joseph Close’s absence – informed directors he was told the parent group has received enough petition signatures to send to PDE. One of the options was for Armstrong School District to pay tuition to Apollo-Ridge for the South Bend students during the upcoming school year.
However, he said that option faded away as conversation with Apollo-Ridge board directors continued in June.
“We were evidently aware that we were not going to pay tuition for this upcoming year. Longer-term for the process of secession, I still am in very-much support of,” Choncek said. “We’ve had conversations as a Board, and I think the consensus is (South Bend Township) still has support for that, which is important.”
Apollo-Ridge would reportedly have to assume as much as $5.5 million of bond debt if a deal is reached.
“I believe we have done everything we can at this point until Apollo-Ridge has digested that information and responded to us one-way or the other,” Choncek said.
Stephanie Dunmire, representing the South Bend Township parents, confirmed the signatures have been gathered, but said after the meeting, a negotiation with Apollo-Ridge needs to take place.
Smeltzer, who was disappointed he was not invited to meet with Apollo-Ridge school directors, said he continues to support his region’s decision.
“I don’t think (all the school board directors are) completely on-board with South Bend leaving – I can’t say that for sure,” Smeltzer said. “I support it, Chris Choncek said he supported it, but the debt is a bid deal. Apollo-Ridge shouldn’t be building our new high school. That $80 million should not be Apollo-Ridge’s responsibility because that money could have been given back. This Board chose to keep that $80 million.”
South Bend Township’s petition is to be submitted to an undisclosed attorney tomorrow.