Phoenixville School District no longer considering Meadowbrook property for new school

PHOENIXVILLE — The Phoenixville Area School District is crossing Meadowbrook Golf Course off its list of potential properties to build an early learning center and East Pikeland Elementary School combination building.

During Thursday’s Phoenixville Area School Board meeting, Joe Antonio, the district’s director of continuous improvement, announced that the district and the owners of the property were far apart on their prices.

“The gap between our independent appraisal of the site and the asking price is large and really hasn’t budged over the last couple of months,” Antonio said. “At this point, the administration is recommending that we formally cease negotiations with the Meadowbrook owners and focus our efforts on the owners of the other highly ranked properties for our real estate process.”

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Antonio said discussions with representatives from Meadowbrook began in June but they couldn’t come to a “mutual agreement.”

Because of enrollment figures in the district, Phoenixville hopes to build a new East Pikeland Elementary School which will share some facilities, such as a cafeteria, with an early learning center which would house all students in the district from kindergarten to first or second grade.

Part of the plan includes retiring the Phoenixville’s Kindergarten Center.

Antonio told the board the Meadowbrook owners approached the district with their property and had approached other interested parties in the past.

Speaking with 21st Century Media on Friday, Phoenixville’s Executive Director of Operations Stan Johnson said Meadowbrook approached the district two before, in 2008 and 2011. Negotiations took place, but no agreement was reached, he said.

“You said, ‘ceased negotiations,’” board member Irfan Khan said to Antonio Thursday. “Meadowbrook is not negotiating, from my understanding. It’s a one-sided negotiation.”

“There’s not been a lot of progress in those discussions,” Antonio replied.

“I think the public should know there really wasn’t a negotiation,” Khan said. “When one side is discussing and the other side is trying to negotiate, I don’t consider that a negotiation.”

Peter Brown, who said he’s a member of the family which owns Meadowbrook, seemed to agree with Khan’s assessment.

“Unfortunately, you weren’t really speaking with anybody who is authorized to negotiate,” Brown said during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting. “I don’t think you had anything in writing from them, correct me if I’m wrong, authorizing them to speak or negotiate on behalf of the corporation.”

“At best, I think all that you were having was a discussion,” Brown said. “I don’t think those people were authorized to proceed further with anything other than a discussion.”

Brown would not elaborate on who exactly the district spoke to regarding the property and in what capacity those individuals were tied to Meadowbrook.

Responding to Brown’s comments, School Board President Joshua Gould said the district was approached by members of Brown’s family expressing a desire to sell.

“In all (past and present) cases, the district was told whom they needed to negotiate with and the district followed through on what it was told by the Meadowbrook people,” Johnson said Friday.

The school district said a committee of board members and administrators negotiated on their side but declined to name who exactly made up the committee until “a later date.”

For more than a decade, Phoenixville Area School District has attempted to build a new East Pikeland Elementary. Where that school and the district’s conjoined early learning center will be constructed remains undecided a little longer.

“We had hoped, quite honestly, to give you more details tonight but it is clear there is much more work that needs to be done,” Antonio told the board Thursday.

By the middle of the summer, the district had hoped to have a property lined up to keep with a time line that would end with the new schools opening in time for the 2016-17 school year.

Both Antonio and Johnson said the window to stick with the original time line is closing but still open.

“It’s getting very, very tight,” Johnson said. “Every day that goes by, every day the hiccup lasts, it gets harder and harder to meet that schedule.”

Johnson said it will take two years of building and gaining approvals to construct “the kind of building we’re talking about.”

But Johnson remains optimistic that negotiations with one of the other properties the district is looking at will come through in time to save the projected opening date.

Antonio told the board that the district is conducting the design process for the new building “concurrently” with the search for properties to expedite things.

“Once we do come to an agreement with one of those sites, we will be able to move quickly,” Antonio said.

Antonio promised the board an update at a meeting in October.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.