The Pennsbury School Board has voted 8-1 to construct a new high school instead of renovating existing buildings in the Pennsbury High School Project.
On Nov. 16, the Pennsbury School Board held its monthly meeting at Fallsington Elementary School and approved constructing a new high school instead of refurbishing the existing East and West campuses.
Next the school district will issue a formal Request for Proposal for an architect to start the process. The project’s estimated cost range is $235 million to $277 million, according to reports presented at the meeting. But the desire expressed would be for costs to be less than $250 million.
The only board member who voted against the approval was Jim Prokopiak. He said he wanted to offer a “different perspective” as a Levittown resident speaking out for his neighborhood, especially its senior citizens.
“Pennbsury is a unique district,” he said. “We’re seeing a huge range of economic positions and the ability to pay and it creates challenges when we look at these types of problems. Lower Makefield’s average household income is $159,000, Falls Township is $86,000 and Tullytown is in the 60s.”
Prokopiak shared how his “life was uprooted when I was a kid because of costs,” saying his family had to move due to a school district that was “just as good” but had lower taxes. Prokopiak also shared how many people told him they were concerned about losing their homes on Election Day.
Prokopiak wasn’t the only one concerned about the cost. During public comments, the question “How exactly is this going to affect my taxes?” was asked multiple times. Also brought up multiple times was this statistic: More than 70% of the district’s population does not have a child in the school.
Before the board voted, Zach Williard, managing director of PFM Financial Advisors LLC and Timothy Care from PNC Capital Markets presented a report for a financing plan. District officials asked PFM to analyze a potential high school multi-step financing plan for 2024 to 2028 to fund $250 million in projects. With the report, the district estimates tax increases to be 5.3% in 2025, 4.3% in 2026, 3.9% in 2027, 3% in 2028 and 2.7% in 2029.
Along with tax hikes, the district also intends to take out bonds to help with construction costs.
The report laid out several approaches to financing including:
• Interim funding — short-term borrowing prior to permanent financing
• Current funding — wait for construction bids
• Advance funding — borrow all (or a portion) prior to construction bids
• Multiple financing — spread borrowings over different calendar years, taking advantage of IRS limits and staggering impact versus increased costs of issuance.
Jamie Lynch from D’Huy Engineering also prepared a presentation to provide more context to the Pennsbury High School Project before the board voted. Lynch touched on the history and timeline of the high school examination which began in 2018 with a Building Utilization Study and Facility Assessment being completed by Bonnett Associates Inc.
The school board meeting followed the Pennsbury School Board Facilities Committee vote on Nov. 9 where the committee recommended the district not try to go the renovation and expansion route for rundown buildings that faculty members have voiced concerns about for years.
The committee cited a heatmap exercise that showed how renovation would add needed facilities, while placing “Band-Aids” on the rest of the structure, inhibiting future growth.
The committee’s study of the issue could not resolve the lack of people movement in the current buildings. Renovating the buildings also would not address security issues on a sprawling campus.
The current structure, it reported, is already a meld of previous structures in need of significant infrastructure and cosmetic changes.
A new structure, on the other hand, will be able to grow with the student body. As for the projected tax increases, the committee pointed out that the expansion/renovation route would necessitate tax increases as well.
Considering the minimal difference in a school tax increase between a renovation and a new school, a new school offers is value-add to the students, teachers, community and staff, according to slideshow shown at the meeting.
The new building, which will be designed for a student population of 2,800, would total 475,000 to 505,000 square feet and cost an estimated $375 to $410 per square foot, according to the D’Huy report.
If approved, construction of the new building would begin sometime in the summer of 2025 with a tentative completion date in late 2029.