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Pottstown school construction project savings eyed, Mercury 9-9-12

By Evan Brandt


POTTSTOWN — The consultants advising the Pottstown School Board on its $24.2 million renovation project in the elementary schools are hoping to save money on the effort by putting the work out for bid in January, ahead of the crush.


The board has voted to close Edgewood Elementary School next year and to expand the four remaining elementary buildings, as well as move the fifth grade into Pottstown Middle School.


The project began with work on Barth Elementary School this year, but at a greater expense than first estimated.


Prompted by this, school board member Thomas Hylton asked Thursday what plans are in place to cut costs on the project if the second round of bidding comes in above the district’s overall $24.2 million cap for all the elementary projects.


Superintendent Reed Lindley summoned architect Jeffrey Straub and energy consultant Damian Spahr to explain the district’s thinking on that question.


Straub explained that although the bids for the renovation at Barth Elementary School came in at $4.56 million, about $400,000 of that was due to alternates added on to the project by the board.


He said the adjustments made to the plans for Rupert, Franklin and Lincoln schools made those expansions smaller, resulting in fewer square feet and, consequently, a lower cost. Those designs are expected to be completed by the end of the month, he said.


Further, the experience at Barth has allowed “us to tighten up the estimates” of costs, to make the bidding more accurate, he said.


Spahr told the board that the district put the Barth work out to bed “at the most inopportune time” in terms of the availability of bidders, and by separating that school out, the district lost out on the savings that would have come from doing all four buildings at the same time.


However, the opposite would be true if the district moves forward with the plan to bid the three remaining building projects in early January.


“Then we’re going to get the economy of scale if we bid at the beginning of the year,” Spahr said.


He reminded the board that the decision to move ahead with Barth first was driven by the announcement that all school expansion projects applying for state reimbursement would be frozen, made in Gov. Tom Corbett’s 2012 budget proposal last February.


Because there is no expansion at Barth, just renovation, the administration recommended and the board agreed, to press ahead with that project while the state budget process proceeded.


Now that the budget is adopted, it has been made clear that those districts already in the reimbursement process, called PlanCon, will still be eligible for reimbursement so long as their construction plans are filed by Oct. 1.


That has resulted, Spahr said, in a crush of applications flooding the Pennsylvania Department of Education.


As a result, contractors are anticipating an equivalent flood of projects being put out to bid in the spring.


“We’ll be the first out and that’s going to be a big deal,” Spahr said.


“I am expecting a reduction in cost,” he said, adding that between the economies of scale and the reduction in the size of the new construction, he expects that reduction to be in the neighborhood of $900,000 to $1 million.


“We plan on saving money on several fronts,” thereby enabling the overall set of project to stay within the $24.2 million cap.


Of course those savings may pale in comparison to the costs of a backlog of projects at the Department of Education.


Several board members have noted that despite moving through the PlanCon process long before Corbett’s announcement, Pottsgrove School District has still not received any of the $3.2 million in state reimbursement anticipated for the $16 million Ringing Rocks Elementary School renovation it completed in 2011.


Straub said he hopes the school board will be able to cast a vote at the Sept. 20 meeting that will allow for a public hearing, called an Act 34 hearing, to be held on November.


That hearing is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 1.

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