ROYERSFORD >> In an 8-1 decision, the Spring-Ford Area School Board approved the next step toward a potential $10 million high school expansion. Board member Mark Dehnert dissented.

The proposed expansion would increase the size of the physical education and performing arts wings of the school. Estimated construction costs for the work range from a low of $7.8 million to a high of $9.3 million.

Monday’s approval allows the district to enter into an agreement with the Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based architecture firm, Crabtree, Rohrbach and Associates for its proposed expansion plans presented at the Sept. 19 board meeting. Furthermore, the board agreed to a $109,000 fee for the firm to begin the schematic design phase of the project. The fee is for basic services, plus reimbursable expenses and fees for additional services, if applicable, according to the district.

The $109,000 is part of a 7 percent fee. The 7 percent is broken out as each section of the American Institute of Architects agreement is completed. Per the agreement, each new design phase of the project requires board approval.

The project’s current design calls for a 24,000-square-foot expansion of the school. Included would be a 14,000-square-foot physical education wing and a 9,800-square-foot performing arts center attached on the eastern side of the nearly 400,000-square-foot building. The project, according to the proposal, would provide more space for the 2,400 students to use and could also handle the district’s continued population growth in years to come. The entire September board presentation is available online to view along with the slide show presentation.

Several board members, including board President Joe Ciresi and Vice President Tom DiBello, said they would support holding a referendum to let the community ultimately decide whether to expand the school.

Dehnert also supported a referendum and said in his opposition to the approved agreement that the district should wait to move forward until voters had their say. He felt it wasn’t worth the district’s time to simply get schematic designs and an updated cost estimate, considering Crabtree’s 7 percent fee, which could total over $500,000. He further suggested the district should request bids on the architectural fees.

“We commit ourselves to a large amount of money for a project we’re not sure we’d even do,” he said.

The $500,000 Dehnert referenced would be “a reasonable estimate if the project sees itself through throughout the various phases,” Solicitor Mark Fitzgerald said. “The commitment today is for the $109,000, for the first phase.” To reiterate, each new phase of the project requires board approval.

Bruce Cooper, director of planning, operations and facilities, said the schematics were important because they will allow the district to see how much the project will cost, what it will look like and then officials can take the designs to the public to hear its opinion.

“Now you don’t have anything to show the public what you want to do. You have no real drawings yet,” he said. “You will have drawings after this phase that you’ll be able to show the public and say this is what we decided on, this is the size, these are all the groups that are involved.”

When board member Bernard Petit asked whether the phase was essential to keeping the project moving forward, Cooper replied that it was. He also said that none of the construction projects he’s seen during his tenure had gone out to bid for the architectural fees like Dehnert suggested.

“We did (requests for proposals) for this architect,” he said. “We talked to other architects before we brought this architect onto this project.”

Ciresi then asked Superintendent David Goodin whether the district needed to do this project.

“Absolutely we do,” Goodin replied. “We need it. We need space in our band room for the performing arts. We’ve talked about this for years concerning sports.”

Goodin then challenged Dehnert’s suggestion that the district request bids.

“It’s not done here; it’s not done anywhere,” he said. “What are they going to bid? They’ll say ‘OK, whatever you want to do, we’ll give you 5-and-a-half percent. Or 7 (percent).’ That’s negotiated between the owners and the architect.”

The project goes out to bid after the schematic design and bid documents are completed, he said.

“Contractors bid on the project,” he said. “And that’s where the competition comes in concerning the overall costs of it.”

Fitzgerald agreed saying “99 out of 100 (school districts) would not bid on a service like this.”

DiBello said from his perspective the schematic designs are important because the board can’t make an informed decision about whether to move forward with the project without all of the necessary materials being presented first.

“That’s the one thing we haven’t been able to make, as we’ve been discussing this, is an informed decision,” he said.

About 20 members of the public, mainly parents of students in band or athletics, stood in line to express to the board their support for the project. Only one person, John Carre, of Upper Providence, stood opposed. He said he was concerned about rising costs for those individuals living on a fixed income.

“Everybody wants the best,” he said of the various local governing agencies who have proposed tax increases. “We on fixed income will not get the best. We will be forced to move.”

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