By Evan Brandt
POTTSTOWN — In uncharacteristically brisk fashion Thursday night, the Pottstown School Board decided to move all Rupert Elementary School students and staff into an Edgewood Elementary building in the 2013-14 school year.
The year-long move will allow next year’s $5 million construction and renovation project at Rupert to move ahead more swiftly without disturbing the students and teachers, said Damien Spahr, a consultant from Reynolds Construction Management, which is also acting as the district’s construction manager for the elementary renovations.
Currently, work at Barth Elementary School, which is being renovated but not expanded, is being done while the students are in the building.
The work is already behind schedule, said Business Manager Linda Adams and Facilities Manager Barry Angstadt, because of the delays and additional requirements being required by the borough’s engineering consulting firm, Remington, Vernick and Beach Engineers — the same firm the
The contractors have also found that more dust than was expected is being kicked up at Barth as a result of the floors there being stripped of finish. A new layer of cover is planned soon to reduce that problem. However the work at Barth has offered a few lessons for next year’s projects at the other school buildings.
Spahr said his team and the administration is already looking ahead to next year, when Franklin, Lincoln and Rupert projects will all be going on.
One way to try and make up for lost time next year, Spahr said, as well as not disturb the students at Rupert, where the largest expansion and construction will occur, would be to move them into Edgewood.
Edgewood Elementary is scheduled to be closed next year and the district will go to four elementary schools.
Having an empty school building that can be used is an attractive alternative to ensure the Rupert work moves ahead as quickly as possible, Spahr said.
“That would open up Rupert for one year and it would have no impact on the educational mission for the students there,” he said.
The cost of moving Rupert into Edgewood for a year, and then back would likely be made up by the cost savings of not having to move the classrooms around in phases while construction and renovation moved to different parts of the building.
“There would be no temporary partitions and we could get it done faster and cheaper,” Spahr said. “You’re going to operate four schools either way. There are lots and lots of advantages to this idea.”
“It seems like a no-brainer,” said board member Thomas Hylton.
Board President Judyth Zahora agreed, as did the rest of the board.
Board member Polly Weand agreed once the resolution included language reinforcing that once Rupert is finished, that Edgewood would be closed.
That closure will require a public hearing, called an “Act 34 hearing,” but since the building will now be used for another year, that hearing can be delayed said Jeff Straub, an architect with Crabtree Rohrbaugh, the firm designing the elementary projects.
Not being put off is an Act 34 hearing for the Rupert project, which is scheduled for Nov. 15 at 6 p.m.
After that hearing the district must way 30 days to act and continue the process, putting the project approval at Dec. 20.
Bids for that project are expected to be issued in January.
Straub explained that because the addition to Rupert represents more than 20 percent of the total building, the law requires an Act 34 hearing.
However, the latest reduction in the size of the additions to Franklin and Lincoln has put them under that threshold and thus they do not require a public hearing, he said.
He said portions of the state approvals have already been received for the three buildings.
Straub also confirmed fears expressed by Hylton that the state’s financial woes may mean that Pottstown does not receive the state reimbursement it is expecting, which is almost 50 percent of the $24.2 million cost for all four buildings.
Hylton said he spoke with an official at the Pennsylvania Department of Education who told him “there are 173 projects ahead of us” in the reimbursement pipeline.
“The budget has allocated $296 million for reimbursement and 80 percent of that is already committed to projects that are underway or completed,” Hylton warned. “The fact of the matter is the money may be cut off and then this program will be out the window. We simply don’t know what will happen next year.”
“If the state doesn’t have the money, then they don’t have the money, it doesn’t matter who the governor is, and I just want everyone to understand we might not get reimbursed,” Hylton said.
Straub said that possibility exists, but pointed out that at the same time new projects are being added, “bonds from 20 years ago are cycling out. But yes, there is potential that the district might have to cover the full debt payments for the first couple of years.”
As for the project already underway, Ryan T. Brennan, a project manager with Reynolds Construction Management, told the board that the delay in permits being issued by the borough consultant firm had delayed the demolition work, but that work is finally underway.
Brennan also said the new, smaller boilers have been put into Barth, although one old one remains to keep the building warm until the final hook-ups are complete.