New Castle News

Local News

October 24, 2012

New Castle Schools: Board hears Lockley options, to vote Thursday

NEW CASTLE — The New Castle Area School Board will decide during a special meeting Thursday on whether to proceed with school consolidation.

The proposed Lockley Early Learning Center project comes with a price tag ranging from $22.8 million to $22.9 million, depending upon which of three options, if any, the school board chooses with different alternative bid choices.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m.

At a special meeting last night, the board heard a presentation from Eckles Architecture of the lowest responsible bidders and financial options for the project, which would consolidate four elementary schools into one.

The district opened its second round of construction bids two weeks ago after rejecting the first set, totaling $21,212,075, because the project — remodeling and expanding the Lockley building and closing the West Side, Thaddeus Stevens and John F. Kennedy schools — was deemed too expensive.

District business manager Joe Ambrosini explained that the project would be financed in part with $17.5 million in qualified school construction bonds at zero percent interest as part of the Obama stimulus package. Another $1.5 million was already rolled into the refinancing of the district’s existing debt at a lower interest rate.

The remaining $4 million or so of the project cost could be paid for in one of three ways, he said, noting the district could refinance all or part of it at 3.3 percent interest.

The district could float a bond issue for the entire $4 million, or it could borrow a portion of the $4 million and use part of the district’s $12.5 million fund balance for the rest, or it could take all $4 million from that fund balance, he said.

Ambrosini pointed out that new legislation cuts off the opportunity for districts to receive state reimbursements for school projects as of Oct. 1. New Castle was grandfathered in to receive reimbursement because the plans for the project were submitted the state.

Should the district forego the project, it is unlikely it would be eligible for cost reimbursements in the future, he said.

With the current project, the anticipated reimbursement from the state would amount to $6.4 million, making the district’s share $15,417,323.

Ambrosini estimated that the amount the district would save through consolidation of the elementary schools through staffing reductions and operating costs would equal the amount of the remaining $4 million.

“This consolidation will only work if there is a reduction in staffing,” he explained after the meeting. “As always, the district strives to do this through attrition.”

Following the presentation and questions by board members, Superintendent George Gabriel commented, “It’s the board’s decision now. We’ve done our part. There’s nothing more we can do.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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