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Updated - Middle School Project Halted
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2017-12-06

Passionate pleas to save project ignored

 

            The reconfigured Upper Perkiomen School Board voted Monday to terminate construction of a new middle school in Upper Hanover. By a 5-4 vote, the board defied numerous audience comments in support of the project and multiple pleas by a new council member to pause the work for up to 90 days.

            Kerry Drake and Raeann Hofkin voted with new members James Glackin, Melanie Cunningham and Stephen Cunningham to cease construction of the new three-story school for sixth, seventh and eighth graders on Montgomery Avenue during a four-hour meeting at Upper Perkiomen High School. The same members also voted to approve a motion to cease seeking funding for the project, estimated at   $55.890 million.

             "This was a very difficult decision for me," said Drake, the newly elected board president, after the raucous meeting. "It was very difficult for everyone. This vote puts achievement over construction."

            Melanie Cunningham described the outcome as the fulfillment of a campaign promise. "We ran on a 'no new middle school' ticket," she said.

            A motion on the agenda for Monday night's reorganizational meeting called for the suspension of the middle school project for 60 days. However, a note reserving the new board's right to extend that suspension suggested some members might have other ideas. Drake announced that the action item included the option to terminate the middle school construction.

            According to Hofkin, opponents of the project asked "over and over" to slow the process. Two days after the Nov. 7 General election, she said the four victorious board candidates asked the current members to pause construction of the school on a parcel near the Green Lane Reservoir.

            Vice President Mike Elliot, John Farris, Judith Maginnis and Joan Smith voted against adding the termination language to the motion. Then Hofkin made the motion to hold the decisive vote to end the project.

            Prior to the roll call, Maginnis implored the quintet to reconsider their decision. She asked them to consider pausing the project for up to 90 days so district officials could figure out the cost of stopping the construction.

            "I'm begging, pleading with my fellow board members," said Maginnis, who participated in her first public meeting since receiving an appointment to replace Kim Baccari. "This is a huge decision. Do we really have to make it tonight? If you vote to terminate, there's no turning back."

            Farris, whose motion to table the pivotal vote failed, also requested that the board delay its decision four days to determine the true cost of shutting down the project. He also asked how much money has been spent on the new school. Former board member Jonathan Warren placed that cost at $7.8 million through the end of November.

            Superintendent Alexis McGloin told the board that pausing the project would cost at least $2.3 million to secure the property. She explained that the district would be required to restore the land though a tri-party agreement with the Montgomery County Conservation District and Upper Hanover.

            An item listed on the meeting agenda regarding a presentation from Robert Breslin, the founder of the Allentown architectural firm that designed the middle school; Arif Azil, the project manager; and Michael Kristofco, a lawyer from Wisler Pearlstein, the Whitpain firm that represents the district, was cancelled. After the meeting Drake said the board discovered several inconsistencies related to bills, and other estimates, but declined to comment further.

            Public comment dominated the meeting. Of the 22 audience members who spoke before the vote, 19 expressed support for the project. Most of those comments received loud ovations from the crowd inside the school's auditorium. Dozens of people waived signs in support of construction.  

            George Bonekemper, a former district administrator, told the board it would be turning its back on the youth by voting to terminate the project. He said the current middle school is unfit for education.

            Tom Yurick of Marlborough told the members he favored the new middle school. He demanded detailed accountability and asked the board to present evidence that cancelling the project would keep taxes low.

            Mary Kershner of Upper Hanover claimed that 60 yards of concrete have already been poured by the electrical contractor at the worksite. She also said that the rooftop and HVAC units for the structure are being built.

            "This could just be a seen as a muddy hole," she said. "That's an awful shame."

            Christine Schmoyer, a Pennsburg resident, told members the middle school project needed to continue. She said stopping to will not solve the district's long-term issues.

            In between the board's reorganizational meeting and its regular meeting, the members held a 50-minute executive session. Kristofco, the solicitor, said they met privately to discuss potential litigation.

            The day after the meeting, one Hereford resident who argued for the project expressed feelings of embarrassment, humiliation and anger. Hope Manion said she was certain the district would be sued for its most recent decision.

            "I'm going to sit back and watch the bills add up," Manion said Tuesday afternoon. "School districts have been sued for less egregious violations."

 

            Manion, who interviewed last month for a vacant seat on the board, said she plans on running for the school board in 2019. She also expects to recruit other candidates "who care about children and make fact-based decisions."


 

 

 

 

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