LIMERICK -- More than five years in the discussing, the next step toward building a $40 million addition and renovation to the Western Center for Technical Studies occurred last week with no discussion at all -- at least from the public.
The public hearing for the project, required by law, lasted 25 minutes and attracted no one from the public except school officials, the architect, the financier, staff from two of the three districts who send students to the center and a reporter.
The three districts that send students to the center are Pottsgrove, Spring-Ford and Upper Perkiomen.
According to the presentation, the $40 million project chosen was one of four options considered. The first three options had a number of downsides both for the students and the taxpayers, said Danielle Hoffer, with the Lancaster firm of Gilbert Architects.
The first, to expand the building to offer a full-day grade nine-12 high school for the students, could reduce opportunities for extracurricular activities and required ninth-graders to make "long-term career decisions right out of middle school," Hoffer said. This option also would have cost $60 million.
The second option, to provide a full-day program for grades 10-12, had the same academic drawbacks, she said. Also, its pricetag was $52 million.
The third road not taken was to provide a half-day program for grades 10-12 and required a second building for the transportation and horticulture programs, which raised security concerns. Its price tag was $48 million.
The option chosen, the fourth, will put a single-story addition to the existing building, which was built in 1966 and added to in 1975. The program, a half-day for grades 10-12, will allow for new programs or additional programing in the building trades, small engines, diesels and heavy equipment, welding and metal fabrication and a dental lab.
The addition will also allow for three social studies classrooms.
The option, with a $40 million price tag, will double the current busing costs but will allow for twice as many students to attend the school.
In addition to the expansion, the project will also replace the center's long-leaking roof.
Technological improvements will include a card-access system, wireless networking and video cameras throughout.
Out of the $40 million, Gilbet Architects is expected to collect nearly $2 million, and the financing will cost taxpayers $760,500.
Jamie Doyle, from Public Financial Management, said while the financing has not yet been arranged, her firm is recommending using the State Public School Building Authority to finance the bonds over 20 years at an estimated interest rate of 4.35 percent.
Doyle also said the state will reimburse the districts 10.3 cents for every dollar they spend on the project.
The total millage impact on each of the three districts is as follows:
Pottsgrove -- .81 mills;
Spring-Ford -- .37 mills;
Upper Perkiomen (Berks) -- .91 mills;
Upper Perkiomen (Montgomery) -- .86 mills.
According to Doyle's analysis, Pottsgrove taxpayers will shoulder $13.2 million of the cost; Spring-Ford taxpayers $24.5 million of the cost and Upper Perkiomen taxpayers nearly $17 million of the cost.
It has been more than five years since the question of what to do with the center had been first batted about the members of the three school boards that jointly make up the committee that governs it. For part of that time, Spring-Ford investigated pulling out of the agreement and building its own vocational program because the financial arrangement under which the center was created calculated cost based on total property assessments.
Spring-Ford's assessed value far outstripped the combined values of Pottsgrove and Upper Perkiomen properties.
The three finally reached an accord when it was agreed to also use the number of students each district sends to the center as a factor in financing the project.