Pay now or pay more later on school barn, superintendent says

| 25 Feb 2016 | 10:55

By Anya Tikka
— School maintenance facilities are crowded and out of date, the superintendent says. But the school board is worried about driving up construction costs by adding the pole barn that would fix the problem.

At its Feb. 18 meeting, the Delaware Valley school board put Superintendent John Bell's suggestion on hold.

Bell had showed board members photos of the maintenance area behind the school’s Career Technical Education (CTE) wing, and requested a $100,000 set-aside.

"A new building allows (us) to keep more vehicles and equipment in, plus tires, cones, fertilizer," he said. "And there will be more work space for repairs and so on."

He argued that waiting, especially with all the delays that come with state approvals, will only drive up costs for a project that will have to be done sooner or later.

The item presented to the board for approval would have Burkavage Design Associates (BDA) Architects, LLC, "develop and prepare construction documentation for the CTE additions and renovations at a fee of 6.5 percent. The fee shall include the services provided by the education consultant, Dr. Clyde Hornberger."

BDA would do testing and site development but would not bill more than $100,000 without further approval. "The fees billed, exclusive of testing agencies, will be credited towards the percentage fee at a time when the Board authorizes the project to move to completion," the proposal states.

PA wheels grind slowly
Board members raised many questions about the proposal, mostly about the cost. What will the district get for the money? Will it include heating and other running costs?

Finance Chair Jack Fisher warned about the costs the district is facing in coming years to meet contractual obligations. Was the pole barn cost in addition to the $10.8 million already approved?

Bell said the cost was in the plan. But $250,000 for the storage facility was included in the presentation last fall, and $100,000 was an addition.

Board President Pam Lutfy said $350,000 for a building didn’t seem a good idea.

“We’ve been working long time on this," said Lufty. "And I’m concerned about community support for $10 million, trying to find it here and there. But my biggest concern is, I don’t want community to say 'We didn’t want that building, I don’t remember voting for it.' I support a pole barn but don’t want to attach it to the CTE project.”

Bell defend the plan. Permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Conservation take a long time to get, he said, and applying now, with the rest of the plans, would reduce costs in the future. Any time the footprint of the campus is altered, he said, permits are required.

“If we don’t want to bite it off right now, we can get the approval started now, and then we have an option to do the project in the future," said Bell. "It’s going to be more expensive if done in future separately.”

World's costliest pole barn?
Board members John Wroblewski and Brian Carso agreed it made sense to include the pole barn now if it was going to cost more later, and if it would take two to three years to get state approval.

Vice President Jack O’Leary said the plan had not been discussed before, and the cost seemed high.

“We don’t know what we’re building," he said. "We haven’t agreed to anything.”

O’Leary the savings of a couple of thousand didn't make much difference.

“I’m not prepared to say yes," he said. "We have contractors who come from far away. I want to see local contractors for a smaller project like this. We have them. We’re putting a $10 million estimate of community’s money to a CTE building, let them build some of it.”

Fisher said 6.5 percent seemed very high to him.

“I have a problem with that," he said. "This is the most expensive pole barn I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen big ones. $350,000 — what are we building inside to bring the price up?”

Wroblewski agreed. “I’m not approving 350,000," he said.

Fisher said, “We’re concerned with the dollars, the approval of CTE. The government wants more money, I would rather wait to see what our budget is going to be in about two months.”

Board member Dawn Bukaj said was a kind of compromise because that state takes so long, and that the $100,000 could get the ball rolling. But Fisher insisted on waiting.

“This is the third time we’re being asked to put up money up front," he said. "We need to work out the tax increase first. We have money problems, we have to meet our contractual obligations next year, and the following year.”

O’Leary suggested a solution.
“How many have been in our elementary school gym?" he asked. "It’s not heated. Why would you tear it down? It’s a fine size for storage, costs us nothing, and we can maybe put in back door. Why tear it down?”