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Bellefonte back peddles in selection of architect

By CHRIS MORELLI

cmorelli@lockhaven.com

BELLEFONTE — There’s an old saying that goes, “it’s not etched in stone.”

At Tuesday night’s Bellefonte school board meeting, they took that to heart. After selecting McKissick for the district’s elementary school project at the last board meeting on Sept. 24, board members Rob Pacella and Kristen Bruckner requested that architect RLPS be brought back into the mix.

After more than 30 minutes of discussion, it was put to a vote. By a 5-4 vote, the board approved to bring RLPS back for another shot at the contract. Those in favor of bringing RLPS back were: Bruckner, Pacella, board president Jon Guizar, Chris Morelli and Donna Smith. Voting against were: Kim Hearn, Robert Lumley-Sapanski, Rodney Musser and Jeff Steiner.

Back on Sept. 24, the board voted 6-3 to authorize director of fiscal affairs Ken Bean and school solicitor Scott Etter to negotiate a contract with McKissick Architects to provide architectural services for the potential elementary construction and/or renovation project.

The contract with McKissick was expected to be approved at Tuesday night’s meeting, but it was removed from the consent agenda for discussion.

One of the main sticking points was the timeline in the contract submitted by McKissick.

“This is pretty aggressive and I’m not sure it fits our timeline for re-financing. I guess my thoughts are that we need to engineer this things from back to front,” Musser said.

Musser also said that he would like to see the timeline pushed to 2020, due to the potential for new board members, holidays and the like. The board is scheduled to meet just four more times in 2019 — Oct. 22, Nov. 5, Nov. 19 and Dec. 3, which is a re-organizational meeting.

“My preference is for all this to start in January,” Musser said.

Guizar said that having new members on the board should dictate a different timeline for the project.

“There are five seats up for re-election and there are six applying for those … with a potential for new board members, is it fair to bring them in to that very first meeting to vote on something they haven’t been caught up on. We’re looking at pushing (the vote) out to the Jan. 7 meeting,” Guizar noted.

Smith said that she didn’t like the wording in the McKissick’s preliminary contract.

“We all agreed that community input was very important. I’m having trouble understanding what the terms (are) and what the dates mean. I’d like to understand a little bit better what’s happening,” Smith said.

The preliminary contract with McKissick was not made available to the public, but not everyone was in favor of bringing RLPS back into the discussion.

“Getting it done is important. Getting it done right is more important. We don’t need to rush,” Steiner said.

It should be noted that contract negations do not point toward what the district will do with the elementary schools. A series of community meetings were held last winter and spring. Those meetings were designed to help the architect and the district move forward with a plan for the district’s four elementary schools — Bellefonte, Benner, Marion Walker and Pleasant Gap.

There is no definitive plan when it comes to renovating or combining certain schools in one location.

According to the district’s website said there are several options being considered: moving Bellefonte Elementary; combining Bellefonte and Benner; combining Bellefonte, Benner and Pleasant Gap; or a full consolidation. Bellefonte and Benner are outdated and are likely candidates for closure.

The board has not made a decision yet.

A new building would be constructed on land the district owns behind the high school, which is adjacent to Governor’s Park.

The website said that a new building would like open its doors in August or September of 2023.

The board is hoping to hear from both McKissick and RLPS at its next board meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 22.

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