Tube City Almanac

September 26, 2011

Third School Cost Nears $32M

Category: News || By Jennifer Sopko

(First of two parts)

A proposed new elementary-intermediate school complex on the border of the city and White Oak will cost about $31.8 million, McKeesport Area School District officials said last week.

But neither Superintendent Timothy Gabauer nor board members revealed what their response will be to McKeesport City Council's recent rejection of the conditional use application for the project.

The board may file an appeal with the Court of Common Pleas or consider an alternate site for the proposed school.

. . .

On Wednesday, at what's called an "Act 34 public hearing" --- required if the district wants to be reimbursed by the state Department of Education for part of the project --- the board presented an overview of the new school, which has stirred up some controversy about its proposed location.

During a public comment period, Robert DeTorre reiterated his opposition over the district's plan to use 26 acres of his 37-acre property along Henderson Road for the new school.

DeTorre, who has owned the land for 24 years, believes that a residential development of the scenic wooded area would attract more families and young adults and yield a sizable tax bracket for the community.

"In light of our declining population and school enrollment ... this property is a valuable asset that can contribute to the growth that is much needed in the White Oak and McKeesport Area," he said in a written statement.

. . .

Several residents testified about their concerns over the fiscal impact of a $31.8 million construction project. Solicitor Gary Matta estimated the total cost of the three-phase project --- expanding Francis McClure Intermediate, building a new school on the former site of Cornell Intermediate, and establishing the brand new elementary-intermediate school --- at between $79 million and $84 million.

With a maximum building construction cost of $23.9 million and a maximum project cost of $31.8 million, all or part of the cost of the proposed elementary-intermediate school would have to be financed, a representative from financial services firm Janney Montgomery Scott told the board.

The district would recoup 17 cents from the state for every local dollar spent.

. . .

During the board's open agenda meeting following the hearing, swim coach Scott Smith asked the board to estimate how the costs of three schools would impact the district's property tax rate.

While the board could not pin down an exact number, Business Manager David Seropian said the millage equivalent of the debt increase for the entire project would be 4.1 mills.

But Seropian said that doesn't necessary mean the district will have to raise taxes by that amount. "That's what I would call a worst case scenario," he said.

Haler Heights resident Beatrice Longo said she was concerned about the effects of construction costs and legal fees upon citizens with declining incomes.

"I abhor eminent domain when there are other alternatives available," she added.

Gabauer said the district will continue to explore options for the new elementary-intermediate building, and ways to decrease expenditures for the project along the way.

. . .

(See also Part 2: "New Schools Will Reduce District's Overhead")

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