JAMESTOWN HIGH School project foes unite
Some fear the project is too expensive for the district.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
JAMESTOWN, Pa. -- Opponents of a proposed $7.5 million expansion and renovation of Jamestown High School are getting organized.
Sixteen residents of the Jamestown Area School District have formed a committee to look at the building plans, trying to determine how much of the cost might be reimbursed by the state, how much the taxpayers will have to shoulder and how much of the project is necessary.
Most seem to accept that some renovation is necessary, and some say they could support the addition of a couple of classrooms if they are needed. However, most believe a $7.5 million project is too expensive for a district of 745 pupils. The building houses 340 pupils in grades seven through 12.
Some fear the project is already a done deal, but Superintendent David Shaffer said that isn't true.
The scope of the job hasn't been finalized, though the district has had architects put preliminary estimates together to show the public what is being discussed.
The district hasn't asked the Pennsylvania Department of Education to review building plans, which is a necessary step for reimbursement, Shaffer said. Jamestown could get nearly 30 percent state reimbursement for costs deemed eligible by the Department of Education, he said.
The school board could vote at its meeting May 20 to present a preliminary plan to the state, but that won't be a final decision nor will it bind the district to do anything, he said. It will be next winter before the board is ready to finalize plans, he said.
The high school was built in the 1950s, and though it underwent some limited renovation in 1983, it has never had an addition and needs extensive improvements, Shaffer said.
It's all tentative, but the board is looking at doing the project in two phases, the first costing about $900,000, and the second about $6.5 million, he said.
Jamestown has money to cover the first phase but will have to borrow for the second, he said.
That's what worries some people.
"My primary concern is the price," said James L. Owens of Sherbondy Road, a 69-year-old retired railroad worker.
"I worked all my life to get out of debt, and they're going to put me back in debt for the rest of my life," he said.
Can't afford it
Natalie Randall, owner of Randall Funeral Home, thinks the project may be bigger than the district can afford.
"It is an elderly community," Randall said, explaining that many residents are on fixed incomes and would find it difficult to pay higher school property taxes in light of recent increases in county property taxes and borough water bills, the latter to pay for water system improvements.
The proposal calls for increasing property taxes over seven years to pay for the project, Shaffer said.
Shaffer said district residents living in Mercer County could face increases of 1.25 mills per year for six years with a 0.3-mill increase in the seventh year for a total of 7.8 mills. That amounts to about $103 more per year for the average Mercer County residential taxpayer, he said.
District residents in Crawford County could face 0.88 mill increases in each of six years for a total of 5.28 mills. That's about $55 more per year for the average Crawford County residential taxpayer, he said.
"It isn't over. We're getting a concerned taxpayer group together," Owens said, explaining the group is seeking answers on the true cost of the project, which includes not only construction but also additional operating costs for an expanded facility.
Jerry Routh of Depot Street, a retired banker, is a member of that committee.
The committee wants the district to break the project down into its various parts to show individual costs and how much state subsidy each can get, if any, he said.
Routh said he thinks the project is took expensive for the district and some of it may be unnecessary.
We want to eliminate any fancy, unnecessary items, said David McClelland of Tower Road.
A new gym might be one of those unnecessary items, he said, claiming that the only time the gym is full is at wrestling matches about twice a month.
Shaffer said the gym is 5,000 square feet, which is 3,000 square feet below state recommendations. The proposal is based on a needs assessment.
Overall, public reaction has been "pretty mixed," Shaffer said.
Some don't want taxes to go up and don't want the school board to do anything.
Others favor limited improvements, and there are some who favor the entire project, he said.