The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 30, 2013

Forest Hills unveils $48M school building plans

Justin Dennis

SIDMAN — Forest Hills School District is moving along steadily on its proposed middle and high school consolidation project, which is estimated to cost around $48 million.

At a public hearing Tuesday night, there was far more positive sentiment than detraction. Act 34 requires public consideration and opinion to be entered into the planning discussion. Public comments or concerns will be accepted through May 30.

Jamie Doyle, senior managing consultant with Public Financial Management, gave those in attendance a rundown of how the financing will work. Aside from $20 million in cash fronted by the district and state reimbursement to the tune of roughly 15 cents per dollar spent, three general obligation bonds, each for about $10 million, will be taken on over the next three years.

“This will look similar to traditional financing because their debt portfolio is so short to begin with,” Doyle said.

The current middle school was paid off in 2011 and the high school in 2012. The new debt service will be wrapped around existing debt for the elementary school construction, which will be paid off in 2018. After that point, principal accrual will increase slightly each year, but officials said it will be well within the district’s depth in terms of tax income.

Considering the indirect annual savings of around $640,000 upon project completion and the millage already in place in the district, the Act 34 hearing booklet handed out at the meeting stated a tax increase will not be required.

“My biggest concern was the cost overall,” said former registered architect Jim Wehner, whose wife is a Forest Hills faculty member. “$48 (million) – that’s a big expense. A very big expense for a little rural school.”

Although he applauded the practical and flexible layouts of academic spaces and the “top-notch” supporting facilities, Wehner urged the district to consider every aspect of the design and development phase carefully to get the most out of its $48 million.

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