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Board Places A Bet On Winning Grant For High School

STOWE PA – “You gotta spend money to make money,” an older-than-dirt business adage goes, and the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors showed Tuesday (Jan. 14, 2014) it’s inclined to agree with the philosophy.

School board members Rick Rabinowitz and Kelley Crist, left, and Pottsgrove Business Administrator David Nester, listen to an architect's presentation Tuesday

School board members Rick Rabinowitz and Kelley Crist, left, and Pottsgrove Business Administrator David Nester, listen to an architect’s presentation Tuesday

Directors approved spending $65,000 for preliminary consultants, paperwork, and other items considered necessary to apply for a state grant that could return $2 million to the district as it renovates Pottsgrove High School. Board members were somewhat hesitant; although assured by proponents “there’s a great chance” the grant will be approved, they also acknowledged it isn’t guaranteed.

Moreover, complying with specifics to obtain the grant – which promotes alternative clean energy use – would cost another $900,000 or so. Directors contended the opportunity for a substantial payback was worth the initial risk.

There was some angst, too, about climbing costs of the proposed high school reconstruction. Even without the grant and its accompanying expenses, the project’s total price has risen from a May 2013 estimate of $30.9 million, to $31.3 million under a September estimate, to $32.9 million in the latest (December) figures provided by representatives of KCBA Architects of Hatfield PA, Pottsgrove’s design firm.

The $2 million in costs added over a period of seven months reflect “some things that came up that no one anticipated,” KCBA senior project manager Jim Keiffer explained to directors. They include a staff proposal to add a science laboratory, the potential need to replace the school’s 20-year-old data cabling, safer lighting in the auditorium, fireproofing requested by Lower Pottsgrove Township, and milling and asphalt overlays on parking lots and driveways.

“We don’t want to end up with a project that comes up 5-percent short,” Keiffer said.

With final bid documents now being prepared for distribution in the spring, board members asked KCBA for details on how and where the extra money would be spent. Some, like director Kelley Crist, wanted to re-examine whether the additions and other reconstruction plans “really met a need, or were just desires.” Board President Justin Valentine emphasized the details “would be important to see, because we’re over in costs from where we want to be.”

The state’s Alternative and Clean Energy program grant could pay Pottsgrove a $2 million subsidy for the high school only if it met requirements of the U.S. Green Building Council’s standards for a “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) gold-certified, super energy-efficient building. Gold certification “is incredibly difficult to meet,” KCBA lead architect Mike Kelly warned, “but we think we can do it.”

Kelly believes current high school plans can meet half of the LEED Gold standard. Applying for the grant does not lock the board into spending anything beyond the $65,000 already authorized. But if Pottsgrove pursues the grant beyond the application stage, it would also spend more than $900,000 to accomplish remaining requirements of the standard. The grant would more than offset the extra outlay by about $1 million.

That, board members noted tongue-in-cheek, is what they’re banking on.

Director Rick Rabinowitz asked if KCBA was willing to reduce any of its fees to hedge against the bet if the district failed to obtain grant money. “That’s the nightmare scenario,” architect Kelly conceded, “and we’d look really bad if that happened,” he added, but said his firm was unlikely to make any concessions. “It’s a decision the board has to make,” he told Rabinowitz.

“I’m disappointed KCBA wasn’t willing to put some skin in the game,” Rabinowitz later said.

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