According to the large majority of attendees at Monday night's Upper Perkiomen School Board meeting, the proposed new middle school is not needed – or wanted.
The near capacity crowd loudly commented and applauded as district residents stepped up to the microphone at the board's monthly meeting to offer their opinions on the why the school should not be built. Only a small number of residents stepped up to support the project, and those speakers were met with just a smattering of applause.
The new school for grades six through eight is slated to cost nearly $59 million, and would be built between Montgomery Avenue and Green Lane Reservoir.
Residents' comments ranged from demands for greater transparency for decision-making by the board and more support for teachers instead of building a new facility, to concerns about higher taxes and traffic problems.
Hereford resident Steve Cunningham, who advocated renovation of the existing middle school, said that the project had been "pushed forward with[out] the input of the tax paying public" and that the board actions resulted "in a plan to fly under the radar of the public."
Cunningham further noted the proposed state-of-art amenities for the new school and an emphasis on "vistas" of the Green Lane Reservoir. He added that students "should be concentrating on schoolwork rather than daydreaming about being outside."
Marlborough resident James Glackin agreed with Cunningham adding, "The facility doesn't matter. It's your teachers that matter."
The vast majority of commenters, however, addressed the rise in taxes that would accompany the new construction. Donna Steinhauer, who heads a free clothing ministry and distributes free baked goods to those in need, said, "This community cannot afford a new middle school."
Melanie Cunningham, owner of Titanium Finishing in East Greenville, cited her own extensive research on local tax structure and requested that the board slow down on the project so that the public can understand.
She added that there were very real concerns about increased traffic on Montgomery Avenue, both with vehicles and pedestrians, but said that PennDOT will not do a traffic hazard study prior to construction.
Cunningham mentioned the burden that would be placed on the senior citizens who live in the many developments for over-55 living in the school district. She said that these residents, often on fixed incomes, would not be able to finance the new school through taxes without "dipping into their savings."
Retiree Larry Taglieber of Upper Hanover Township said, "You people made the decision for the whole school district," and voiced his own concerns about living on a fixed income with little left over, saying that the Board has "no consideration for the seniors living in the district."
Benita Beck of Red Hill said, "As good stewards I would think that you'd want to be understood to gain our support.
"You don't have our support," she added. "As stewards you are failing."
Among the few supporters to speak was Lucy Kern, a lifelong Valley resident, who provided a succinct history of the building of schools in the district, saying, "The people were proud to build schools."
"I don't know the answer for this," she continued, "but for the future of Upper Perk kids, you're going to have to build a school."
In reorganization news, the board elected officers in a short meeting prior to the regular meeting. Dr. John Farris and John Gehman were nominated for president, but Gehman declined the nomination.
"A board president should be on for two years and not more than two years," he said. "I'd like to quit while I'm ahead."
Farris was elected as president, with Raeann Hofkin the sole opposing vote to the appointment.
Kimberly Baccari and Gehman were nominated for vice president. Gehman was elected, with Hofkin, Baccari, and Dr. Kerry Drake voting no.