Residents in the Penn Manor School District are likely wondering why their property tax bills have soared in the past few years.
School taxes in the district — which includes Millersville Borough and Manor, Martic, Pequea and Conestoga townships — have risen nearly 16 percent in the last three years.
Some of the increase is due to financial pressures such as skyrocketing pension costs and unstable state funding. But the Penn Manor school board has also been building up the district’s reserves as it prepares for a major high school renovation project.
The project, which calls for much of the current school to be torn down and replaced, is expected to cost $87.2 million. It’s the most expensive single-school construction project in the works in Lancaster County.
Penn Manor officials held a community hearing on Monday to go over why the project is necessary, the new school’s features, the cost and how the district will pay for it. Also called an Act 34 hearing, the meeting is mandatory in order for the state to reimburse a school district for a construction project.
Here are some details you may have missed.
Why it’s necessary
Penn Manor High School was built in 1958 and has undergone just one major renovation, in 1997, when it was connected to Penn Manor Junior High School, which was constructed in 1961. An area known as central complex was built to connect the two buildings. The total facility now takes up about 340,000 square feet.
The lifespan of the major building components and operational systems are in the 25-to-60-year range, the school’s website states. The current building, it says, is deteriorating and must be updated to adequately meet students’ educational needs.
The district is now finished with the design phase and is ready to go out to bid for construction in November, Penn Manor business manager Chris Johnston said in a phone interview Friday. The school board, he added, should have the bids up for a vote in early January 2019.
He expects construction to start in late spring 2019 and finish by the end of 2022.
Construction will go through several phases, Johnston said, as portions of the current building are torn down. Students will move into temporary buildings until each section is completed.
A majority of the building will be torn down and replaced, with the exception of central complex, which includes a cafeteria and gymnasium.
The new facility will span 382,577 square feet and have a 2,100-student capacity. The current building enrolls about 1,700 students, according to the latest data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Among the new additions will be a 900-seat auditorium, a media center with a hands-on makerspace inside, a greenhouse, areas for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) activities and a music suite with band, choral, orchestra and ensemble spaces.
“The design is more efficient and I think more flexible so we can have more collaboration between classes and departments,” Johnston said.
The building will only have two entrances, he said, both of which will have secure vestibules where visitors must check in before entering.
The estimated pricetag on the project is $87.2 million. The board in June approved a resolution setting a maximum project cost at $91 million.
To pay for it, the school district plans to take out two bonds — one for $40.01 million, the other for $47.18 million. They’ll likely be paid off by 2041. By then, the school district will have paid $142.5 million in principal and interest.
An additional 1.333 mills in tax are necessary to help pay off the debt. The new millage will be phased in over the next several years.
The school district is building $4 million in reserves to offset the cost, Johnston said.
“It’s really the only option,” Johnston said of the district taking on new debt. Without it, he added, “you would essentially have to eliminate a lot of things just to pay for this construction.”
Johnston said he expects the state to reimburse as much as $7 million of the total costs. But that’s not a guarantee.
“We don’t know how that’s gonna work out,” he said. “We’ve done everything we need to do to be in line for that money should it be available.”