Coatesville Area school officials will hold a hearing Dec. 2 during which taxpayers may comment on the upcoming North Brandywine and South Brandywine middle school renovation projects.The potentially costly renovations will include a geothermal heating system and expanded cafeteria and classroom space at each school.

At the hearing, taxpayers will get a look at floor plans and site plans as well as preliminary cost estimates for these projects.

Pennsylvania's Act 34 requires school districts to hold a public hearing if they plan to make substantial renovations to their schools.

"Substantial renovations" are defined as renovations that increase an existing school's architectural area by more than 20 percent. Renovations to both middle schools, by this standard, are substantial.

The school board voted Monday night to schedule the hearing for Dec. 2. All resident comments will be recorded by a court sternographer and will be considered by the school board as it tries to figure out how to proceed with the project.

Also, taxpayers may submit written comments 30 days before and 20 days after the hearing.

The school district will likely issue bonds in mid-2009 to cover the cost of the projects, according to school district Finance Director Ken Lupold. Because of gyrations in the financial markets, it's hard to predict exactly what interest rates will be attached to the bonds, he said.

The cost of the renovations is likewise uncertain, according to Ken Johnson, the architect working with the school district on the projects.

Taxpayers will be presented with a preliminary cost estimate at the December hearing, Johnson said, but it's hard to know how much the projects will actually cost.

"The cost estimate is very fluid because of where the market is right now," Johnson said. 'The inflation rate on projects has not increased at all in the last few months. That's different from a year ago, when the inflation rate on projects was increasing at 1 percent a month."

North and South Brandywine middle schools were built in the late 1950s and are nearly identical. A key part of the renovations will be to add more classroom space in the form of modular, two-story additions and to increase the size of existing classrooms.

District officials said the renovations are likely to be completed during or before 2011.

If the cost of the renovations causes the district to raise school property taxes above the rate of inflation, Act 34 requires the school district to put the project up for a voter referendum. Lupold said the district does not plan on such a tax increase.

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