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Middle School Contracts Awarded Amid Board Discord
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            As the Upper Perkiomen School Board completed its deliberations last week to build a new middle school on Montgomery Avenue in Upper Hanover, debate over the language in the construction contracts led to a display of discord.

            Members Raeann Hofkin and Kerry Drake wanted to discuss the details of the termination clauses of the general construction bid contract listed on the September 14 meeting agenda for the new schools. Hofkin said she had not seen the language recently and wanted to refresh her memory. Solicitor Ken Roos explained that he did not have copies of the language with him, but told her they were written to be as owner friendly as legally possible.

            Responding to multiple questions on the potential cost of aborting the project after it has been started, Roos said that decision would lead to unavoidable liability. He suggested that the district would likely lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction costs.

            Vice President John Gehman made a motion to end debate and vote on the action item to award the contract.  Drake responded immediately by asking Gehman if he wanted to approve the multi-million dollar contract without seeing the final language.

            "The reason I moved to close debate is simply because it was time to vote," Gehman wrote in an email message received Saturday afternoon. "We'd been through this umpteen times.  The arguments have been made. I made many of them myself for over a year."

            Willard Pike III seconded Gehman's motion, which required a two-thirds majority. It passed with only two no votes, from Hofkin and Drake.

            Moments later, the board voted similarly to award the general construction contract to Boro Construction, a King of Prussia company, at a cost of $32.874 million. Hofkin registered her displeasure during the roll call vote.  "Double no," she said.

            In succession, the board approved additional motions for the HVAC, plumbing and electrical contract. Hofkin and Drake voted against each one. Overall, the four contracts to fund the construction of the new school total $45.874 million.

            A ground breaking ceremony will be scheduled in October, according to Superintendent Alexis McGloin.  Contractors should be moving dirt at the site near the Upper Perkiomen High School by the middle of the month, according to Michael K. Ackerman, a senior associate with Breslin Ridyard Fadero Architects, the Allentown firm that designed the building, attending the public meeting.

            Boro Construction was also awarded the HVAC bid at a cost of $4.890 million. Albarell Electric, Inc., of Bethlehem, will be paid $5.120 million to complete the electrical work. The plumbing bid went to the Frey-Lutz Corp., of Lancaster, for $2.567 million. 

            During board member comments, Hofkin explained that her method of "attacking the status quo often has the greatest impact." She stated that serving on the school board does not prevent her from exercising her First Amendment rights. Hofkin also called out a social studies teacher at the middle school

            "Is Phil Detwiler still here?" she during her monologue. "I have a pack of matches for him."

            Two days later, Hofkin offered an explanation for the comment. In an email received Saturday, she claimed that Detwiler allegedly stated that "he would rather light himself on fire than sit across the table from (Hofkin)," during an opening day speech at a union meeting.

            Detwiler, responding Monday to an email seeking comment, deferred all questions to Bob LaSalle, president of the Upper Perkiomen Education Association. LaSalle did not return a separate email sent Monday afternoon.

            Hofkin also criticized the leadership of President Dr. John Farris during the public meeting. She congratulated him for "being free to waste the more than $3.4 million with 7-½ weeks to go prior to the election." Hofkin then declared that the current board would be held responsible for the money spent on the school project when the new board is seated in January "and votes to pause the construction project in order to vet other options/ideas."

            Drake expressed a concern that the district will not be able to adequately address other pressing needs due to the "huge expenditure" for the new school for at least the next three years.

            "I am greatly afraid of what will happen the next three years due to the financial handcuffs we have put on ourselves," he said near the end of the public meeting. 






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