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School Board Accepts Recommendation to Build New Middle School
Written by Bradley Schlegel Staff Writer
2016-10-19

        Despite the concerns of some residents and several board members, the Upper Perkiomen School Board is moving forward with a plan to construct a new middle school.

        Last week, the board approved a resolution, 6-3, to accept a recommendation by its facilities committee to build the school for sixth, seventh and eighth graders along Montgomery Avenue between Eighth Street and Walt Road in Upper Hanover.

        District officials have estimated the cost of the project at $56 million. Administrators hope to break ground on the three-story structure next summer. Construction is expected to take two years, according to Superintendent Alex McGloin.

        President John Gehman, Vice President Raeann Hofkin and Kerry Drake cast their votes in opposition during the Oct. 13 public meeting.

        Board member Mike Elliott, a member of the finance committee, called the decision to build a new middle school long overdue.

        "Fourteen years ago, we kicked this can down the road," said Elliot, referencing the board's 2002 decision to invalidate a previous vote to build a similar facility. "This is a sound decision."

        Wilfred Pike III, chair of the facilities committee, described the new middle school as a necessity for the students.

        "We can't shortchange them," Pike said prior to the vote. "This middle school has not worked for a long time."

        However, Gehman repeated his assertion that the middle school project is the wrong choice for this time. He suggested that the board push a project of this size into the future when "the economy is thriving and we can afford this." Gehman added that the property should be preserved for a future expansion of the Upper Perkiomen High School.

        Drake also expressed his opposition to the measure, saying that the district should examine other options "to see what we can do with $50 million. I am going to vote, 'No.'"

        Hofkin, echoing an earlier sentiment from a resident opposing the proposal, offered "her last plea to slow this down." 

        Several residents at the meeting told the board they could not afford to absorb the cost of proposed construction.

        Beth Sheldon told the board that they have underestimated the impact the decision would have on the community.  "Our taxes are going to go up a lot in the next couple of years," said Sheldon, a Marlborough Township resident.

        Polly Creed, also a Marlborough Township resident, said an affirmative vote would force her widowed mother to sell her house. 

        "You need to consider who supplies you with the money," Creed said. "This is not your money. We expect it to be spent wisely."

        Elliot described the vote as a "tough decision" that has to be made. He thanked the residents for their input.  "Don't think that we haven't lost sleep over this," Elliot said.

        Hofkin and Drake also voted against to two related measures that the board approved. One allows the board to enter into a construction management service agreement with D'Huy Engineering with a base fee of $872,500. The other allows David Blackmore and Associates to conduct Geotechnical exploration at the proposed site.

        In September, Sandra Kassel, the district's business manager, presented the board with a worst-case scenario for the funding of the new school.

        According to figures provided by Kassel, the cost to expand current facilities – estimated at $18.69 million – would cost the median Berks County taxpayer an additional $38.93 in the first year, an extra $14.54 in the second year and $53.47 for the remaining years of the loan.

        The median taxpayer in Montgomery County would see a tax increase of $49.67 the first year, $18.56 in the second year and $68.23 for the loan's remaining years.

        The approved new middle school project, by comparison,  would cost the median Berks County taxpayer an additional $69.64 the first year, $131.33 the second year, $41.58 in the third year and $242.55 over the life of the loan.

        Those figures for the median Montgomery County taxpayer – $88.85 the first year, $167.56 the second year, $53.04 in the third year and $309.45 over the life of the loan – came in slightly higher, according to the information.

        Those numbers don't factor in any reimbursement from the state, a reduced interest rate, a potential transfer from the district's capital reserve account, or other costs that could be reduced during the design or construction phases, according to Kassel.

        At the Oct.13 meeting, Susan Miller – a former school board member – and Amanda Merrill expressed their support for a new middle school. Following the vote, Merrill thanked the members for their decision.

        Earlier in the week, school district officials appeared before the Upper Hanover board of supervisors for a conditional use hearing regarding their proposal. District officials have proposed constructing a sidewalk on one side of Montgomery Avenue, according to McGloin. She said township officials discussed the possibility of implementing sidewalks on both sides of the street.


 

 

 

 

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