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West Shore board approves up to $247M project

Junior Gonzalez

The West Shore School Board has approved a plan to overhaul the physical makeup of the district, effectively ending a yearslong debate on the feasibility of many school buildings and what to do about them.

West Shore School District's board of directors approved a massive, nearly quarter billion facilities project on Thursday night.

At Thursday night's meeting, the board first heard the recommendation as read by district Superintendent Todd Stoltz. The facilities and feasibility committee decided to recommend Option 1, known as the “feeder” option.

The board approved the plan, which retains the two high schools in the district, Cedar Cliff and Red Land.

Under the plan, six new school buildings will be built, replacing buildings the district says are older and deficient.

The project will be done in seven phases that are estimated to be completed by 2026, and the total cost for the project is estimated at between $218 million and $247 million.

Renovations at Cedar Cliff and Red Land high schools are scheduled to begin in 2023.

The board also unanimously approved RLPS as the architectural firm to design the five new school buildings.

The district’s plan to pay for the project is still in development. In a newsletter sent to residents, the district outlined the possible effect on millage rates. As an example, it showed the impact of a progressive 2.9 percent property-tax increase. The actual increases will take place on a year-by-year basis in accordance with typical school budgets.

West Shore's current 13.83 millage rate is the lowest in York County.

At Thursday's meeting, administrators also approved an initial funding resolution for the district in the form of general obligation bonds. The bonds would be available to finance the first two phases of the project, and the total amount that could be borrowed from the bonds is capped at $118 million.

The first two phases of Option 1 are estimated to cost between $107.2 million and $117.8 million.

Pushback: Board member Brian Guistwhite disapproved of text in the resolution that states the amount borrowed for the project is not subject to approval by the board.

“I've got a problem with that personally,” he said. “If we approve this, we're approving spending that (amount of) money, or something close to that."

Guistwhite proceeded to request either amending the measure or tabling it until a new resolution can add approval parameters.

Board President Ronald Candioto said he was against tabling the resolution because the board had been made aware of similar text in a finance committee meeting.

Guistwhite then made a motion to amend the resolution by eliminating a portion that removes board control of the incurrence of bonds. The motion failed when no other board member seconded it.

The board went on to pass the motion, 7-2, with Guistwhite and board member Christopher Weidenhammer voting against the resolution.

Reaction: Board member Abigail Tierney said she was pleased with the community engagement and thanked the administration for its involvement in the process.

Fellow board member Thomas Falvo agreed with Tierney, adding that the several public meetings “greatly influenced” his decision to vote for the measure.

Stoltz said he was pleased the measure passed. "This has been a long and involved process," he said of the feasibility project. He said the decisions made Thursday would keep the district's facilities solvent for the next 25 to 30 years, which he calls "extremely exciting."

The first construction of a new building will begin in 2018, starting with a new K-4 at the current site of Rossmoyne Elementary School, according to Brett Sanders, director of management information systems at the district.