A project 20 years in the making may have just hit another snag. During the Tuesday night meeting of the Methacton School Board, a motion was approved to “reject all bids to field renovations as received to date.”
Though not listed on the original agenda, Methacton Superintendent Dr. David A. Zerbe recommended to the board that the motion be made and approved, given the higher-than-expected bids that came in for the project.
“During my last update, I recommended to the board that we pause to best evaluate the information before us,” said Zerbe of the fields project, which aims to add turf and lights among other safety improvements to the sports complex at the high school. “In order to bring forward a recommendation in the future that meets the safety, playability and access of these fields for our students, at the same time to fiscally provide an opportunity based on the needs of the taxpayers.”
Zerbe again reiterated that the board and administration is still behind the plan, and aims to get it done in a timely and cost-effective manner.
“Since the last update, my staff and I have evaluated the bids, and it is clear to me that we can complete this project,” said Zerbe. “I know this board is supportive of this project and wants to get this done, as well. However, it is clear that we cannot complete this project at any cost. The bids came in higher than we’d expected. Therefore, after a completing my report this evening, I’d like ask the president to entertain a motion to reject all bids pertaining to field renovations received to date.”
Zerbe told the board that recent interest from unnamed local businesses and organizations may make partnerships and donated work an option for the project.
“My team and I have been exploring ways to better position the district with getting this project done right,” he said. “It is the belief that we should commit $4 million of the $5.5 million bond issue for this field project and allocate the remaining funds to the district capital funds, as outlined in our five-year capital plan, explained in January of 2014.”
Members of the board, as well as administration, voiced concerns that the township board of supervisors and administration at Worcester Township, within which the high school is located, has made the process extremely difficult.
“Worcester Township has made this process more difficult than it needs to be,” said Zerbe. “We’ve allocated an enormous amount of resources away from this project toward things like conditional use that are taking far more time than anyone had anticipated. Additionally, if this was done properly, we’d be able to allocate these additional funds away from the hearings and lighting issues to other areas of the project.”
Zerbe said that the use of partnerships may be a better alternative for the project.
“Best part of our recent work is some interest within our community regarding private companies interested in working with us to get this project done through in-kind contributions,” he said. “I will continue to work under premise that we will use $4 million from bond, coupled with the recent interest of private companies to be added to our fundraising campaign efforts to serve as a basis to get shovels in the ground for this project come March 2015.”
No public comment was heard from the audience, though it was allotted time for as the item was not previously on the agenda. Hearing none, board member James Phillips added his two cents to voice his frustrations of the township he calls home.
“This project started about the first time I was on the board, five years ago,” said Phillips. “At the time, it was a $3.5 million project, but as you know, things don’t get cheaper with time.”
Phillips said that the time taken has not been by the choice of the school district, and reiterated the points made by Zerbe that Worcester has been a source of much of the delay.
“The point is the undertow with this whole project has to stop,” said Phillips. “This project has been on the path of sabotage from day one from various groups in Worcester Township.”
Phillips cited the spending of $1.8 million on storm water research, as the township required the district to consider the fields a “meadow” and the continued delays of a Conditional Use hearing as major hurdles the district has had to face, all at a cost to taxpayers.
“They placed a conditional use hearing in for the special interest groups that were against [the field project],” said Phillips. “Certain neighbors were included in the conditional use hearing that should not have been. Their whole logic is that this was going to cost so much money, that we’d reject the bids as we will tonight, take time to lose public interest in the project, because they tried it 20 years ago, that nobody shows up for the conditional use hearing or the township meetings where there is time for public comment.”
Phillips said the township residents should be alarmed at the proceedings surrounding the high school’s athletic project additions.
“Taxpayers and citizens of this township of Worcester should be outraged at the money being spent on this joke, this circus,” he said. “It is an unfriendly place to try to do business. The solicitor of Worcester Township he billed $13,000 for one meeting. We’re paying for that, in time and money. We need people to start coming out to regular township meetings and complaining. We’re trying to do the right things for the public.”
School board president S. Christian Nascimento echoed the concerns of the board.
“I’d like to extend thanks to the superintendent, the solicitor, the administration for the long hours they’ve put in, working through this, and continue to work through this. It’s been challenging, I think everybody knows that,” he said. “We appreciate the effort you folks have put into this. I think the board remains committed to doing this project in a fiscally responsible way for the community.”
Nascimento said the need to do the changes to the complex has not changed, nor has the board’s opinion on it.
“At the end of the day, I believe it is a safety issue for our students, and our student athletes clearly, so I believe the board remains committed to doing this,” said the president. “I think that we’ve shown over the past few months and weeks that in matters large and small we’ve had some success with public and private partnerships and the fact that there are folks in our community that want to help with in-kind contributions is encouraging.”
The board, now consisting of seven members after two recent resignations, approved the rejection of the current bids accepted to date unanimously, 7-0.