WELLSBORO — The board here put a school on the table for possible closing: Rock L. Butler Middle School.
At the Oct. 1 work session, the board met with Jamie Doyle, Public Financial Management advisor, and Sam Scarantino, Quad 3 architect. The board cannot vote at work sessions, but did identify the middle school — the district’s oldest building — as the one to target for possible closure.
That will require figuring out what renovations and additions are needed at the current administration building and possibly high school building and how much that will cost. The board asked Scarantino to provide a plan and cost estimates for adding instructional space for more than 500 students to the administrative building and connecting it to the new senior high school.
There was discussion on how that could look: housing eighth grade in the high school, sending middle school students to the high school for shared classes, ie, music, art metal and wood construction, or housing administrative offices in the high school building.
The board said administrators should drive that decision, advising the board and architect what will best serve the students. Director John Hoover did recommend keeping some flexibility in the plan to allow for changes in student population, career path development or other factors.
In her presentation, Doyle said historically low interest rates will allow the district to borrow up to $20 million without increasing its annual debt payment of roughly $200,000, but will extend the term of the debt from 2035 to 2052.
“It is more expensive in the long run,” said director LaRue Reese.
The board said they hope any construction will be less than $20 million.
“I’d rather not say ‘We have $20 million, how do we spend it?’ I’d rather we say ‘What do we need and here’s how much it will cost,’” said director Sue Judlin.
Scarantino said he would take the plans he first presented and streamline it, get feedback from administrators and revise it before presenting it to the board.
At the same time, the board acknowledged that new construction and needed maintenance at the remaining buildings could result in the district borrowing the full $20 million. Quad 3 estimated that the district buildings require $4 million in repairs within the next five years. Hunt Engineers estimate, including inflation, totals nearly $20 million while the district’s buildings and grounds manager Darren Bryant estimates are just over $5 million.
But eliminating maintenance to the middle school could reduce that figure, plus the district could apply proceeds from the sale of that property to the debt, said directors.
“Either we need to start putting money into the middle school or look at our options up to $20 million,” said director Chris Gastrock.