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election 2012

EACS projects’ fate up to voters

When residents in the East Allen County Schools district head to the polls May 8, they’ll be asked whether they want to pay for an $88 million building project affecting New Haven schools and the former Paul Harding High School.

The project – the third and final phase of the district’s redesign plan – would turn New Haven High School into a seventh-through-12th-grade building and renovate the former Paul Harding High School, which will be opening this fall as East Allen University.

It would also create a third-through-sixth-grade “intermediate” school using part of Park Hill Learning Center and relocate the East Allen Schools administration building to New Haven Elementary.

If approved, much of the cost of the project would go toward electrical and mechanical upgrades, including updating heating and air conditioning units at two of the high school buildings, East Allen Business Manager Kirby Stahly said.

New Haven High School is 35 years old, and the Harding building is 39 years old.

The $88 million project is the final stage of a three-stage $111 million district redesign plan to close several schools and renovate others. The first phase expands Woodlan Junior-Senior High School into a kindergarten-through-12th-grade campus, and the second phase does the same at Heritage Junior-Senior High School.

Both the Woodlan and Heritage projects were approved through a dueling petition process – not a referendum at the voting booth.

For the owner of a $100,000 home, the three projects are expected to cost $85 a year in property taxes. For an 80-acre farm with an assessed value of $130,000, taxes would increase by about $339 a year.

If the referendum is approved, the plan would fall outside the property tax caps, meaning the cost would be shared by all taxpayers in the East Allen district and wouldn’t increase the tax-cap loss for other units of government.

In some circles, East Allen’s plan and its decision to divide it into three sections have come under criticism.

New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald, for example, said he opposes the $88 million plan because he believes the district could have created a more efficient redesign plan, such as closing some of the district’s high schools.

He also said he’s concerned that the board has no backup plan if the referendum fails.

“As a person, I don’t plan on voting for it,” he said. “I’m not out actively telling people not to vote for it. I just don’t think the school board has done an adequate job planning for the future education of our students.”

East Allen Superintendent Karyle Green has said East Allen University, the early-college high school program slated to open in the former Harding High School this fall, will open regardless of the referendum’s fate.

The board hopes to get funding to give the high school a college campus feel by providing a coffee shop and open spaces conducive to collaboration.

If the referendum fails, school district Board President Neil Reynolds said the board would need to have more conversation with New Haven- and Harding-area residents.

“The status quo will be maintained,” he said. “Students will stay where they are. … But some of those buildings are going to need some upgrades. We’ll have to do what we can to maintain the buildings.”

dhaynie@jg.net

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