AASD votes to bid school project

Decision allows board to find true cost of building plan

The Altoona Area School Board voted 7-2 to solicit bids for its estimated $88 million building plan, which calls for a half renovation-half new construction of the two-structure high school complex.

The decision is nonbinding. It allows the board to find the true cost by receiving construction bids. Board member Dave Francis urged the 20-plus residents at the meeting Monday to attend a 9 a.m. March 10 meeting at the high school auditorium where alternative plans will be presented by different architectural companies.

Board President Dutch Brennan, Vice President Wayne Hippo, Bill Ceglar, Ron Johnston, Francis, Kelly Irwin-Adams and Rick Hoover voted to put the project out to bid.

Sharon Bream and Ed Kreuz voted against it.

“I feel we should put it on hold until after March 10,” Kreuz said. “At that point we will be able to see what is going on.”

The decision to move forward with the project after bids are received would require a 0.61-mill tax increase to fully fund the project, along with a wrap around of debt-service millage already built into the district’s budget, according to Superintendent Charles Prijatelj.

The millage increase would be implemented in phases over 10 years and would increase the average taxpayer’s bill by $70 total by the end of the project. Put another way by board member Ceglar in the past, it’s $7 per year for 10 years.

Whatever the increase, residents turned out Monday to say they don’t have it to give.

Mike Sanders said he was retired and on Social Security.

“So far this year, my supplemental insurance (Medicare) went up. Prescription drugs — up. My water bill — up. The county reassessment meant my taxes went up and the county raised taxes on top of the reassessment. You want to build this new school between Sixth and Seventh Avenue. I don’t have it to give you.”

Terry Conrad, who said he was on retired with a disability stressed the lack of industry in the district to afford the project.

“I’ve watched people do backflips when a new steak house opens up here. Those are minimum wage jobs. You are like a classroom bully saying ‘we want this school.’ But you can’t write the check,” he said.

He urged the board to put the project on the ballot.

Another speaker, Joe Rodkey, a “lifetime resident” of the city said the voters have already spoken by not electing incumbent John Donley back to the board in November. Donley was present at the meeting Monday to urge the board to allow the project to go out to bid.

“Why is he not there on the board now. It is because taxpayers and voters didn’t agree with what his thoughts were. … I don’t understand you board members. How many people are sitting in their homes turning their thermostats down to afford the heat bill through the winter?”

A couple parents in the crowd defended the project.

“I’m for it,” Kelly Williams said. “I don’t have millions of dollars. I support three kids on my own. They deserve a new school. The high school is in the stone age.”

If the board doesn’t build a new building, the 90-year-old B building would need repairs.

“We are still going to see tax increases. A new school seems to be a better investment,” said D.J. Rossman, a parent in the district.

The project going out for bid requires demolishing the intramural field on Seventh Avenue.

Michael Pacifico, representing Pacifico’s Bakery, reoffered his family’s property on Fifth Avenue as a new site for the proposed school instead of destroying the intramural field.

“It might be a cheaper option. We’d be willing to relocate,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.