Tube City Almanac

May 10, 2012

Amid Pa. Funding Worries, District Re-Hires Architect

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A potential provision in state Gov. Tom Corbett's 2012-13 budget could impose a one-year moratorium on reimbursement of costs for new public school district construction projects in Pennsylvania.

While the final state budget has yet to be passed, the rumors of a funding freeze are enough to worry the McKeesport Area School District about losing reimbursement for several new construction projects planned for the district, including renovation and expansion of Founder's Hall, an update to the district-wide master plan, and changes to the ongoing renovation of Francis McClure and replacement for Cornell Intermediate School.

Unsure of the amount of time available to request proposals from a different architecture firm if the state does cut funding, the board accepted a proposal from the district's current architecture firm, JC Pierce, by a 5-4 vote at its April 25 meeting.

Five school directors --- Mary Jane Keller, Tom Maglicco, Joseph Lopretto, Steven Kondrosky and President Patricia Maksin --- accepted JC Pierce's proposal, which sets an architectural fee of 5 percent of construction costs, not to exceed $400,000. Mark Holtzman, Trisha Gadson, Christopher Halaszynski and Terri Kisan voted against the proposal.

. . .

At its March meeting, the board authorized Business Manager David Seropian to solicit letters of interest from alternate architecture firms.

The district received letters of interest from nine firms. But School Director Mark Holtzman was dismayed that the board did not actually request competitive proposals from any of the nine alternate firms before taking action.

"Why bring them here and not bring them to the table?" he said.

The district should have researched which firm had the lowest architectural fee, taking into account the potential for a school tax increase and upcoming contract negotiations, Holtzman said. "I don't care who the architect is ... but I want the best available price," he said.

. . .

Several board members, including Gadson, said they were under the impression that construction projects need to be submitted for state approval before any funding moratorium is imposed.

Gadson asked the solicitor and business manager to give the board some direction and help them decide between retaining JC Pierce and investing time in exploring other options.

"You're asking them to do the impossible, you're asking them to know what's going on with the state," Maksin said.

According to district Solicitor Gary Matta, the moratorium is under discussion, but the state has not yet released any documents stating whether or not it will be implemented in the 2012-13 budget.

. . .

A moratorium on reimbursement for school construction projects is something that has never been suggested until now, said Seropian, who has been with the McKeesport school district for 26 years.

Although the state does not have a specific timeline for getting a construction project approved or even guarantees that a project will be approved, "the sooner you get a project submitted, the more likely it will be approved for funding," Seropian said.

The business manager advised the board to move forward if they were satisfied with the current architecture firm and its proposal or solicit other bids if not.

"I don't think we can give you an educated answer," he said.

. . .

MASD's own budget for the next school year is still unsettled as Seropian continues to work with the finance committee on a preliminary draft for the board's consideration.

Maglicco previously warned the board that the 2012-13 budget is going to be "challenging," considering expected increases in expenditures and potential cuts in state funding.

The board plans to discuss the preliminary budget at its May meeting.

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