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Editor's Voice: We got prudence - yes, we do!

Posted 3/4/14

It was just two weeks ago that we called for prudence in Lower Swatara Twp.’s assessment of the proposed new high school that will be built by the Middletown Area School District in the face of what seemed like tension between the regulator …

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Editor's Voice: We got prudence - yes, we do!

Posted

It was just two weeks ago that we called for prudence in Lower Swatara Twp.’s assessment of the proposed new high school that will be built by the Middletown Area School District in the face of what seemed like tension between the regulator (the township) and the developer (the district). Then wham! – the township’s Board of Commissioners approved the final land development plan at a meeting on the night our editorial appeared on newsstands.

 

We’d love to believe that it’s because of our wise words. In truth, it was probably because we underestimated the ability of two political bodies to work together to reach a reasonable agreement. We’re delighted we now have to say: Oops. Our bad.

But could you blame us for our apprehension, especially in the wake of federal government shutdowns and the nastiness that passes as political debate nowadays, both on TV and on the Internet? Here were two sides seemingly chafing each other so severely just a week or two before the approval that they were playing the “Peanuts’’ card in anger and frustration to stand their ground.

 

You remember the comic strip: Charlie Brown would attempt to kick the football while his neighbor, Lucy, held it – but she would snatch it away at the last minute, and he would fall. Well, the district suggested that the commissioners were playing Lucy to their Charlie Brown, withholding approval until their concerns were met. The district had hoped to begin construction soon – as soon as this spring – and open the new high school in the fall of 2016. Apparently it didn’t anticipate that the commissioners would have problems with proposed parking and curbing, and that it might have to spend more money than it expected to address them.

 

It brought this retort from Commission President Thomas Mehaffie III to district representatives at one public meeting: “I don’t consider us Lucy.’’

 

Indeed, fears that the township might play hardball with the district as a protest against the multimillion-dollar project – though the current Middletown Area High School is deteriorating, some question whether it would be cheaper to renovate it than tear it down and build anew – and a possible property tax increase in the future to pay for it were unfounded.

 

Turns out the commissioners simply were doing their job the way they believe it should be done. No hidden agenda. It’s impossible to misread this assessment of the commissioners’ approval by Howard Kelin, the district’s attorney shepherding the project through the approval process: “To say that this is completely satisfactory would be an understatement.’’

 

Now the project moves forward. The district has set a maximum expenditure of $40.3 million for it, and it is hoped that there will be few, if any, cost overruns.

 

In fact, the new high school could be built without an increase in property taxes, with a little luck in obtaining a low interest rate on general obligation bonds and some nifty balancing of district debt, according to a financial advisor hired by the board.

 

If a new building lasts 40 years, many of us will be gone from this earth by the time a replacement is needed. If we can endure the cost without a significant tax increase, it will be a job well done, on all fronts.

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