Phoenixville moves ahead with school project on golf course

Meadowbrook Golf Club in Phoenixville. The Phoenixville Middle School is visible in center background. File photo by John Strickler/21st Century Media

PHOENIXVILLE — Further steps are being taken toward constructing the new school complex on the grounds of the Meadow Brook Golf Club.

The Phoenixville Area School Board approved a contract with Schrader Group Architects for the planned early learning center/elementary school combined building.

The architects will earn a capped $2,337,065 for their work.

“It’s what we estimate will be 6 percent of the total cost of the building,” Executive Director of Operations Stan Johnson said last week, giving the building and grounds committee report. “There is no additional cost. It’s a fixed cost.”

Actually, the contract comes in at a little less than 6 percent of the estimate of the building cost, which is in the $41.7 million range, according to district officials.

In recent months, the district said the total project, meaning the planned athletic fields, parking and maintenance building on the Meadow Brook property, would not exceed $80 million. At the start of the summer, Johnson estimated it might cost around $60 to $65 million.

Last week, Johnson said the district could have gone with a straight percentage contract, but that would have been based on the final cost of the project, not the initial, projected cost. As such, it could have contained some unforeseen costs that came up during the project.

On Thursday night, the school board approved the fixed cost, $2,337,065 contract Johnson outlined the week before.

Contracts approved by the school board included ones for a topographic survey of the property as well as a study of the historical buildings on the Meadow Brook property.

McMahon Transportation Engineers and Planners received the contract for the survey. John Milner Associates Inc., which was recommended by a consultant with Schuylkill Township, was hired for the historical consultation.

In the meantime, Johnson said district negotiations with Meadow Brook for a lease to allow the golf club to continue operating until the end of the golf season.

Last month, the school board voted to take “immediate possession” of the property.

No agreement has been reached, but the course remains open.

During the most recent building and grounds committee meeting, a traffic study relating to the new construction was also discussed, according to Johnson.

He said the study relates to road widening on Pothouse Road near the planned entrance to the school complex as well as at the intersection of Pothouse Road and Route 29. Months ago, PennDOT indicated to the school district that it will require improvements in that area.

The school district has also been frequently meeting with Schuylkill Township officials regarding the project.

In one of those meetings, Schuylkill Township residents expressed concern for their property’s wells.

Johnson said the district has met with multiple engineers and has a plan which they believe will work for the property and discharge most rainwater into the ground and the creek running through Meadow Brook.

“They believe that when the project is all completed, the residents will see less water running on the surface of their yards,” Johnson said.

Most recently, Superintendent Alan Fegley and board President Josh Gould gave a presentation on the project to the Schuylkill Township Board of Supervisors.

On Sept. 17, the district will meet with the township planning commission once it has completed a survey of the Meadow Brook property and a “full highway relocation plan” and stormwater management plan is put together.

GEOTHERMAL POTENTIALLY IN NEW BUILDING

In last week’s board workshop meeting, Johnson said the district is still, as board member Irfan Khan put it, “leaving the door open on geothermal” for heating and cooling the new school building.

“We’re still designing the HVAC system in two ways: we’re designing with a conventional system and with geothermal,” Johnson said.

Since the price of the contract with Schrader, it won’t cost extra to put together a plan for both.

District parent and Community Budget Advisory Committee member Lisa Longo has advocated using geothermal systems for temperature control in the planned building.

“Geothermal is the best option for taxpayers,” she told 21st Century Media recently. “As I have shown in the analysis it will save taxpayers millions over the life of the system. A standard natural gas system may last 20 years. Geothermal can last 80 years.”

When comparing systems, Longo advocates using the span-of-life formula rather than a “simple payback” formula, which the district has also been looking at.

Johnson said the payback for a geothermal system could take more than 30 years.

Taking maintenance, repairs and replacement for a standard type of system into account, Longo maintains the payback for geothermal is actually more like 19 years.

“That is based on the assumption that after 20 years, everything has to be replaced,” Johnson said.

As far as the regular system, Johnson said they’re looking at a high-efficiency boiler.

“It’s not zero emissions but it’s pretty close to it,” Johnson said. “It’s about the cleanest burning fuel you can buy. A lot better than coal or oil, that’s for sure.”