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AASD approves $87.3M project

Board awards contracts; cost is under budget

Brenda Dick was among a number of area residents taking their turn to address the Altoona Area School board concerning the vote on building a new high school. Many speakers, including Dick, were not in favor of the project. Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec

The Altoona Area School Board awarded construction contracts Monday night for a high school project that has been developed and debated for two and a half years.

The total cost is $87.3 million, or $633,000 under budget, said construction manager Damien Spahr. With the 5-4 vote on Monday, the board moves to begin construction of a new building on the current intramural field on Seventh Avenue and renovating the other high school building.

Board President Dutch Brennan, Vice President Wayne Hippo, Kelly Irwin-Adams, Rick Hoover and Bill Ceglar voted to award the general construction bid for the high school renovations and additions to J.C. Orr and Sons Inc., with several other contractors getting bids for specific work.

Board members who voted against moving forward with the project were Sharon Bream, Ron Johnston, Dave Francis and Ed Kreuz.

Hippo said it’s been a long, exhausting haul to come to this point.

“I think education is the golden ticket,” Hippo said. “It’s the one chance these kids have to achieve, to go beyond some of the cards they were dealt. Building this is not the golden ticket, but it is a massive tool … for our most important asset, our teachers. It gives them more opportunities to give to kids.”

“It has been a long haul,” Hippo said. “Ultimately in my view, this is a long-term win to establish in this community what education and this city is about.”

In December 2015, a previous administration and board set the wheels in motion to explore building options. The plan that was chosen and developed over years was a renovation of the current high school A building, construction of a new B building, demolition of the existing, 90-year-old B building and construction of a new intramural field at the site of the demolished school.

The project is to resolve space issues in the elementary schools while meeting the instructional needs of the district’s secondary programs.

The renovated and new high school buildings are to be ready for students in the fall of 2020.

About 50 people attended Monday’s meeting in the high school auditorium. About 14 people spoke, with six in favor of the project and the others opposed.

A few shared their fears of not being able to afford the taxes that go along with the project. They spoke about losing their homes, not being able to afford medicine or live any kind of life with tax increases not just from the district, but especially from the county piling up.

Brenda Dick spoke about median income struggles.

“Median income in Altoona is $36,000 if you are lucky. I have two kids in this school. … I’m more worried about how my kids are going to get a job. You are not here to build new buildings. We are not New York City, people. I have my mom and dad, who I’m buying medicine for, and I’m a widow to boot. I see more for sale signs from this tax assessment shoved down our throats. … Where is our right to vote on this project?”

Board members Sharon Bream and Ron Johnston have repeatedly attempted to get the board to put the decision on a ballot referendum.

“I think it is important to put this decision on the (May primary) ballot to hear what people have to say. They are not putting it on the ballot, but they will send you the bill. For those reasons, I cannot support this building,” Bream said.

Bream voted “absolutely no” to the project.

On March 10, to an audience of about the same size, McKissick Associates Architects proposed renovating the B building and adding some new construction at a total cost of

$53.5 million. However, the board never met and discussed that plan further, Bream said.

“This board never seriously sat down and talked about that. I think it should be further discussed before we vote. … The cost of project to this community is just too big. Seniors have spoken to you tonight. I went door to door speaking to people. They tell stories that will scare you. They now paid for their homes. But their taxes are going up. They are on fixed income.”

Ceglar stressed that money has to be spent either for renovation or new construction, and aside from McKissick’s $53 million estimate, several other firms he said were between $70 and $89 million.

“The big lie is that we can do nothing. Something has to be done. I don’t think there is a board member who doesn’t agree we have problems at the elementary schools with overcrowding.”

He noted that the district has a $100 million budget and that the annual payment on the debt will be

$2 million.

The total millage impact to pay the debt involved with the project is 0.61 mills, according to the district’s bond counsel. The board plans to enact that total increase through a series of smaller increases over 10 years. Once fully implemented, it would produce

$2 million annually.

Kreuz said, taxpayers are locked in to pay on the project for 30 years.

“It’s a life sentence for me. I’ll be 82 when it’s paid off. … I don’t know if we can afford renovation, but I know we definitely can’t afford this building.”

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

Bids awarded

The board voted to award bids for the construction of the high school renovations and additions to the following contractors:

General trades to J.C. Orr and Sons Inc. for $46,515,000

Casework to NEIS for $1,306,800

Fire protection to William Spaeder Co. for $732,400

Plumbing to Jay R. Reynolds Inc. for $3,145,200

HVAC to The Farfield Co. for $11,103,000

Electrical to the Farfield Co. for $11,564,000

Asbestos abatement to R.L. Abatement for $124,300

The final project total of $74.4 million. With soft costs, the total is $87.3 million.

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