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Upper Perk Middle School Construction Pause Denied
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            A vote to pause construction of the middle school for 60 days failed during last week's public school board meeting. 

            Mike Elliot, Raeann Hofkin and Kerry Drake voted in favor of the motion, which would have directed school districts officials to order contractors to stop their work building the new school for sixth, seventh and eighth graders on Montgomery Avenue in Upper Hanover.

            During the November 9 public meeting, the board also approved a motion to authorize the issuance of 2018 bonds in order to borrow $26 million to help fund the construction. 

            Hofkin introduced the motion to pause during the same meeting in order to allow the new board, which will be seated December 4 during the reorganizational meeting, to reexamine the district's financial situation.

            "I'm hoping the current board has a little bit of common sense to see the writing on the wall and stop the exorbitant spending of taxpayer funds," she wrote on a November 9 email prior to the meeting. "What could possibly go wrong when rushing a project of this magnitude?  They need to slow down. It didn't need to be this way."

            No votes by President Dr. John Farris and Joan Smith, along with outgoing members Jonathan Warren, Will Pike and Vice President John Gehman, may have only delayed the inevitable. The recent election of three new board members – Melanie Cunningham, Steve Cunningham and James Glackin – should create a majority coalition of members who oppose the project. Hofkin and Kerry Drake have consistently voted against a proposal to spend approximately $55.890 million to build the new school.

            In the same email, Hofkin stated that she will make a similar motion on Dec. 4. Melanie Cunningham echoed that statement, while the members were in executive session, during the November 9 public meeting. She told the audience that the new board's first vote will be to pause this project.

            "Dumping all this money into one school is scary," Steve Cunningham said during the recess.

            Prior to the vote, the current board met privately to consider the potential legal exposure that the board might face should it pause the project, according to Solicitor Kenneth A. Roos.

"I answered the members' questions" during the executive session, Roos said after the public meeting.

            The solicitor identified several examples, including claims by contractor for costs associated with closing up and reopening their on-site operations; claims by contractors for costs incurred and work performed to date, plus the cost of terminating contracts that the contractors have entered into with suppliers; costs associated with any required renegotiation of the agreements with Upper Hanover Township and the Montgomery County Conservation District regarding development of the property; claims by design professionals, construction manager and other consultants for suspension of their contracts and potential risk in not meeting the commitment and expenditure deadlines for bond issues. Roos, in an email received Saturday, described the list as preliminary, but "not necessarily comprehensive."

However, Roos could not predict a dollar cost to the district. "No one can," he said after the meeting.

            Prior to the executive session Elliot, a consistent supporter of the middle school, announced that he would be voting to pause the project. He said he still believes the new middle school is a good idea, but that he "understands the reality of the situation" and recognizes the division on the board and in the community.  "I'm not a big fan of division," Elliot said.

            After casting his vote, and waiting for the other seven members to do the same, Elliot held his head in his hands while the other members voted and slouched his shoulders forward. During the financial report, the member appeared to slouch in his chair.






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