The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 1, 2014

Experts iffy over Downtown Dragons' proposal

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

— LEWISBURG — Experts who studied competing plans for Lewisburg Area High’s future last week could not conclude whether a grassroots group’s idea to renovate and keep the school in the borough was any better than the district’s proposal for a new building in Kelly Township.

Members of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials of Harrisburg examined the Downtown Dragons’ $31 million high school renovation plan for the present high school in Lewisburg, as well as information from the group’s website, said Hannah Barrick, the group’s director of advocacy.

The Downtown Dragons on Feb. 18 offered their project options against the $35.7 million design backed by school board members.



Comparisons impossible

A direct “apples to apples” comparison isn’t possible, Barrick said, without knowing why the Downtown Dragon’s plan was drawn as it was. The Daily Item asked her organization to compare the plans.

Erin Jablonski, spokeswoman for the Downtown Dragons, said an architect and a professional with school construction experience helped create the group’s plan and would not reveal their identities.

Jablonski told The Daily Item she is “obligated to protect the identity of the people who provided the cost information, as I assured them I would.”

The plans would not compare directly, Barrick said.

“The (Downtown Dragons) are not necessarily taking into account the same educational and other factors that the district is,” she said.

Square footage per student could be one example, for instance. The Downtown Dragons have maintained the high school doesn’t need the amount of space per student in the district’s plans.



Renovations cheaper

The experts did note renovating the high school at Route 15 and Market Street has its advantages in terms of time and money.

“The cheapest short-term option is generally — probably in nearly all cases — to renovate the existing building,” Barrick said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best solution for the district. Even with additional information, it’s still apples to oranges when comparing new construction to renovation.”

Comparisons at this point may be moot.

Lewisburg Area School District directors Thursday night signed a bond resolution to borrow $35.7 million for a new campus in Kelly Township. Board members approved the move by an 8-1 vote, and construction of a 182,481-square-foot high school on the Newman Farm property is expected to begin in September.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials is a statewide organization with about 3,000 school professionals as members. These include those who work in finance, accounting, operations, facilities, transportation, food service, technology, communications, human resources, purchasing and safety services.

Email comments to esocha@dailyitem.com.