On Monday, December 18, the Northampton School Board met to discuss terminating the previously awarded construction contracts.
First, Arif Fazil from D’Huy Engineering Inc. presented the implications of terminating the contracts, so that the board could make an informed decision on where the district stands.
Fazil expressed that cost factors associated with potentially terminating the construction contracts for the Route 329 elementary school and education center would include all design, approvals and permit costs completed, work completed by contractors thus far, work in progress and stored materials by contractors, cancellation of purchase orders authorized by contractors and subcontractors, removing work completed and restoring the site, demobilization and potential legal claims that could result in additional monetary payments.
Since work began on the project on November 30, there would be a significant financial impact to the district. Costs incurred through December 19 include the following: design, planning and bidding phases – $3,489,587.65; general contractor work completed – $665,157.61; mechanical contractor work completed – $154,350; electrical contractor work completed – $172,890; plumbing contractor work completed – $33,075; total work completed – $1,025,472.61; and retainage held to date – $113,941.40. Since this is an estimate, the work in progress and stored material costs could vary, and the work to restore the site would cost an additional $584,126.37.
Also, the work in progress and stored materials are estimated to include the following: general contractor work in progress and stored materials – $1,879,451.21; mechanical contractor work in progress and stored materials – $898,995; electrical contractor work in progress and stored materials – $370,785; plumbing contractor work in progress and stored materials – $18,750; total work in progress and stored materials – $3,167,981.71; and total estimated purchase order cancellation – $1,186,528.75. As such, the total estimated costs to be paid is approximately $9,567,638.49 but could be higher due to potential legal costs.
Business Administrator Craig Neiman noted that terminating the contracts would not be covered by insurance and that the district would have to come up with the funds.
During the meeting, there was an increase in the number of residents in attendance that spoke up about being in favor of the Route 329 project during public comment. Several residents and previous board members also brought up how they feared history repeating itself because this same scenario happened when the middle school was initially proposed and new board members stopped the project, which ended up costing the district and taxpayers $60 million more when the idea was revisited, and the school was finally built.
The consensus amongst those in favor of the project was that borough schools are overcrowded, which will only exacerbate when the 1,800 proposed homes are built throughout the district, and that conditions of Franklin Elementary, Moore Elementary and Siegfried Elementary must be addressed.
Franklin Elementary teachers attended to share how the deplorable conditions at the school disrupt learning and stated that all students in the district deserve an equitable learning experience.
Several residents also voiced concerns regarding a lack of alternative solutions to fix the overcrowding and issues at the schools, and because stopping the project at this point would incur over $9.5 million in debt with nothing to show for it.
Previous director Robert Mentzell stated, “A yes vote for this school is a responsible and economically viable move in a positive direction for our kids and for our community. A no vote is reactionary with no viable plan to accommodate our impending growth [that] condemns our kids to overcrowded conditions.”
Residents in opposition of the project continued to voice concerns as well, citing that Route 329 is an unsafe location for an elementary school due to tractor trailer traffic and accidents, air quality, noise and EMS proximity, in addition to economic and tax concerns, declining enrollment figures and the question of whether Moore Elementary will be renovated and remain open since it has not been formally voted on.
President Doug Vaughn provided that in 2024, the increased cost for the average assessed $63,000 home will be $42.21. In the year 2025 it will be $28.98, in the year 2026 it will be $28.98, and in the year 2027 it will be $28.98, which averages to $31.82 annually.
Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik explained that a walk-through of Moore Elementary has been scheduled in January for the board to see the school’s conditions and necessary renovations, which can then be formally voted on. Kovalchik also noted that the proposed tax increase that will be discussed during the January budget presentation is 2-2.5%.
New board members opined that exiting members forced their hand in the project due to contracts being awarded at the November 13 meeting (before they took office) and bonds being awarded at the December 4 meeting, which they felt should have been tabled to provide them with ample time to review information they were not previously privy to.
In a vote to terminate the prime construction contracts approved during the November 13 meeting, the motion failed 5-4 with directors Michael Baird, John Becker, Chuck Frantz, Ross Makary and Doug Vaughn voting not to terminate the contracts, whereas Kim Bretzik, Joshua Harris, Brian McCulloch and Kristin Soldridge voted in favor of the termination.
McCulloch stated that he voted against the project because he cannot, in good conscience, saddle the people that voted for him with such a financial burden, and Vaughn shared that he voted in a fiscally responsible way based on not wasting $9.5 million of taxpayers’ money.
The next Northampton School Board meeting will be held Monday, January 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium, located at 1619 Laubach Ave.