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Bellefonte has new timetable for school project

BELLEFONTE — The Bellefonte Area School District has a plan — again.

After scrapping its initial elementary school plans, the Bellefonte school board heard about a new timeline at Tuesday’s meeting, which was held in the Bellefonte Area Middle School cafeteria. Ken Bean, director of fiscal affairs, gave a brief presentation about the elementary school plan. He said his timetable is merely a guide for the path to, perhaps, a new elementary school.

“This is all just a draft to start the discussion,” Bean said.

At the Dec. 3 meeting, the board will re-organize and develop a request for proposals. In January, Bean said, the district will advertise the RFP in local newspapers and send it to firms. In February, the board will screen responses and select firms to interview. Those interviews will be based on qualifications, experience and cost. During the interview process, the firms will be asked questions about process and cost. They will also be asked for references. In March, recommendations will be made.

“We’ll ask firms to come in and assist the board in making a decision about what we’re going to do with the elementary building or buildings. Whether we renovate or build new? Or do we do a combination of that? It gives different scenarios for the board to look at. We can get our heads wrapped around it … what we want to do, what we might want to do,” Bean said.

In March through June, there will be public meetings held once again. Those will engage the public while getting employee and firm input.

“It involves these firms, going out, meeting with the public, meeting with the board, obviously. Meeting with the staff, reviewing work that’s already been done and getting walk throughs of the buildings and helping the board come to a decision on what we want to do,” Bean said.

In June, Bean said, a final decision will be made by the board.

“I think the timeline is reasonable,” said board president Jon Guizar.

He said that public input and transparency is important as the district moves forward with a plan. During the last round of talks, there was plenty of misinformation out there, he said.

“We had TV cameras showing up saying that we had already decided on consolidation when nothing could be further from the truth,” Guizar said. “I think this three- to four-month process will be extremely well-covered, well-advertised and well-thought out as we engage with the community,” Guizar said.

This is the second go-around with the elementary school project. After entering into contract negations with an architectural firm for the elementary school project, the board decided at the Nov. 6 board meeting to reassess the project and divide it into two separate steps.

Earlier this year, the board was set to vote on a contract with McKissack Architects to move forward with the project after evaluating three firms. However, several board members expressed that they would like to negotiate with other firms and hear other options.

Current options include renovating Bellefonte Elementary School in downtown Bellefonte or building a brand new facility on land behind the high school near Governor’s Park and consolidating some of the schools. There are currently four elementary schools in the district: Bellefonte, Benner, Marion Walker and Pleasant Gap.

At the Dec. 3 re-organizational meeting, three new members will join the board: Mark Badger, Julie Fitzgerald and Penn State student Max Kroell.

Guizar believes that the timeline gives them an opportunity to get their feet wet before making one of the biggest decisions the board has made in years.

“It gives the incoming board members a chance to get their head wrapped around the process and some of the things they’re going to need to engage in,” Guizar said.

But this process is about more than just the board, Guizar said.

“Engagement from the community is going to be extremely vital in this process. We want to make sure that everyone has ample opportunity to do that and leave no stone unturned,” he said.

Board member Jeff Stiner said that even though there are seven months until the board has to make a decision, it has to stay on track.

“I think we’re going to have to be snappy and make sure we don’t slip off the time frame,” Stiner said. “I worry that if we do … we’re going to grind to a halt. We’re really going to have to stay on track and not lose focus.”

The board will meet one more time in 2019, at 7 p.m. on Dec. 3 at BAMS.

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