What: Ephrata Area school board meeting, via Zoom, Nov. 2.
What happened: The board discussed the status of district debt service and financing options for a proposed capital project involving three district buildings. The project has three main components.
Part one: There would be an addition to Ephrata High School to accommodate expanded music and performing arts spaces. Also, a program called Project Build a Better Future, which teaches students ages 18-21 with special needs how to prepare for life outside the classroom, now housed at the Washington facility, would move to the high school. The headquarters for the student services department, also there, would move to the high school.
Part two: The district has planned a complete HVAC system replacement at Ephrata High School.
Part three: The district has also planned for a complete HVAC system replacement at Ephrata Middle School.
The cost: The board considered financing options for the estimated $38 million in building projects. The board learned about several options for financing, including a $5.5 million annual debt service run rate. Several board members shared concerns about going into debt. These numbers are only estimates until the district locks in financing, potentially in spring. Board member Phil Eby, who is reluctant to add debt, said, “If ever you were going to borrow, a 1.5% interest rate is the time do it.”
Quotable: “The reluctance of going into the debt is probably one of the significant factors that has us in the position we are in,” board President Rick Gehman said. “So it is OK to drag our feet on this. Let’s be wise. Let’s be prudent ... we’re building an excellent future for our community in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Background: Last spring, board members had discussed whether to continue plans for the music department and HVAC projects. They talked about waiting until the school debt is paid off in 2022. But as they learned Monday night, interest rates for loans are at an all-time low.
What’s next: The board will further discuss options on Nov. 16.
Winter sports: The board may approve a sports attendance policy Nov. 16. Approximately 105 spectators will be permitted, including visiting fans for wrestling and ninth-grade junior varsity and varsity girls and boys basketball events in Ephrata Middle School gymnasium). For seventh- and eighth-grade girls and boys basketball in the high school gymnasium, there will be approximately 100 spectators permitted, including fans for the visiting teams. No spectators will be permitted at bowling, rifle or swimming.