AASD needs to proceed cautiously

Whatever the Altoona Area School Board ultimately decides regarding the district’s administrative office space needs, paramount in that decision must be that it’s anchored with careful spending.

The goal must not be creation of an administrative Taj Mahal. Rather, the facility eventually decided upon must be limited to meeting the administration’s space needs and providing for efficient handling of its various responsibilities.

Useless frills should be avoided.

With that in mind, well before a final decision on how to proceed is forthcoming, the administration must outline clearly its current and projected space needs, what functions need to be lumped together in one location and, if the final decision is to proceed with more than one location, how the administrative operation will be divided.

Additionally, district taxpayers need to be told whether the plan will be to use existing administrative office furniture and equipment or equip the office with new furniture, computers and other necessary items.

Considering the total cost of the high school construction and renovation project, which has been listed as $87.3 million, it’s important for the administration to be frugal as a good-faith gesture to current and future district taxpayers.

Board members must keep in mind the controversy that the project spawned during the many months preceding the decision on how to move forward. It’s safe to say that costly surprises won’t be well-received.

There already are differences of opinion and unhappiness among the public over project decisions involving the tennis and basketball courts, and another eye-opening development is the $48,000 that will be spent upfront for a new electronic sign along 17th Street.

It’s too early to tell what direction the administrative office issue will take, whether the board will opt to rent or build new. One thought is that the district would benefit over the long run by owning its administrative facility and that that office space should be in close proximity to the main school district complex.

It’s difficult to argue against the premise that the administrative offices be well-organized and efficient, not something merely thrown together to save money now but require much bigger spending later, due at least in part to the constantly escalating construction and renovation costs.

But, again, the current financial best interests of taxpayers must always be kept at the forefront.

Based on the school board’s July 9 meeting, district Superintendent Charles Prijatelj is evaluating proposals involving purchase of the Pacifico Bakery building on Fifth Avenue, adding the administrative offices to the plans for the new B building or purchasing or renting the Vipond building in downtown Altoona.

But Prijatelj also should look again at how the administrative offices might be integrated into facilities that the district already owns.

He should prepare an easily understandable cost analysis, as well as comparisons, for any options that he studies, both for members of the board and district taxpayers.

The board presumably has at least several months to decide how to proceed. Under the construction-renovation timetable, the current administrative wing won’t be lost until the 90-year-old B building is razed during or shortly before 2020.

Rather than a blank check, what the administrative office issue needs immediately, and going forward, is the best cooperative thought and planning mindset that the board and administration can muster.

Whatever the outcome, the final decision must be correct both for now and the long-term future, financially and otherwise, for the students and the district as a whole.

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