As those cheering on the fields project at Methacton High School stood by, Dr. David Zerbe, the district’s superintendent, told the board he’d like more time to consider the “complexity” of the project.
As many know by now, the district has been considering the addition of both lights and turf to its athletic fields at the high school. After a second round of bids generated two new general contracting and one new electrical bid, the superintendent expressed a concern with rushing to do the project.
“On March 18, 2014, the Methacton School District received two general construction and one electrical bid as part of their high school athletic field complex project,” said Zerbe. “While preparing for this evening’s meeting and in review of the overall bid responses, I recognize the overall complexity of the bid process and very subtle questions that still remain unanswered for myself.”
Due to his unanswered questions, Zerbe asked the community and the board for more time to think it over.
“As a result, I am recommending this evening to the board that we pause on this project. In order to properly evaluate the complex scenarios associated with the bid that we received, as well as provide a solid recommendation that not only meets the safety, the playability, and regulatory requirements before us, but is also fiscally responsible and consistent with our overall intent. And that intent is to deliver on a field renovation project on the Methacton High School campus.”
Zerbe said that the delay was not a reconsideration of whether or not to do the project, but simply a chance to make sure the project is done correctly.
“I want to make it perfectly clear, that as superintendent of schools, the renovation to our high school fields are needed, and shall remain a district priority,” he said. “I ask that the board provide me two weeks to address [the project] with architect and administrative teams, to provide an appropriate and affordable solution for our community.”
After the two weeks, Zerbe imagined reconvening in a special meeting to discuss his findings.
“I may come back to you with a recommendation to hold a special meeting in order to move forward with our recommendation,” he said.
While original dates conflicted with a conditional use or board work session, the board did approve to hold April 9 and 15 as possible dates for a special fields meeting. The board unanimously approved allowing for the two-week delay.
Lois Byrne, of Lower Providence Township, used the board’s “courtesy of the floor” time to express her concerns. She said though she could “appreciate the complexity of the bids” and understood there was “only get once chance to get it right,” she wondered what in fact might be considered during the delay. She also wondered if the field’s projected timeline for construction would also be impacted by such a delay.
“We’ve gone through two phases of bidding,” explained Zerbe. The first resulted in no general contracting bids, one electrical and one plumbing. “We made some adjustments to those bid numbers, and I believe somewhere in the late part of February, we got authorization from the board to bid a second time.”
In a second round of bidding, two general contractor bids and one more electrical bid was obtained. The board “held onto” the plumbing bid from the first round. The new bids still did not make Zerbe feel comfortable.
“At this time there are still a lot of unanswered questions that I don’t feel I can appropriately explain at this moment in time to the board, or to the public,” he said. “It is one of those things where I need some time.”
He reassured once again field proponents that changes would come.
“We need to deal with these fields. No question about it. The fields need to be renovated,” said Zerbe. “I think that the board, for the number of special meetings that we’ve held, this board is committed to getting something done.”
He once again reiterated, however, that the project needs to be done to meet the high standards the board has put forth for its community.
“The problem is, we need to get something done in a manner that not only meets our health and safety and playability requirements, but that meets the needs of our community from our tax base,” said Zerbe. “We need to be fiscally responsible with this, and I need to be able to be confident that the numbers I am giving to this board, the recommendation I am providing, is that meeting all that criteria.”
As for the start date, the originally discussed concept of breaking ground on April 15 now seemed unlikely to the board.
“Certainly our initial discussion of our last bid process, April 15 [was when we would] likely to break ground,” said Zerbe. “This delay will impact that start date. At this moment in time, I can’t tell you how it will impact it, but it could.