BASD hires firm to assess needs of elementary schools

BELLEFONTE — The Bellefonte Area School District’s elementary school plan shifted out of neutral and back into drive during Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

During a meeting that lasted nearly three hours, the board voted 6-3 to retain Hunt Engineering to do a needs assessment of the district’s elementary buildings. The assessment will cost the district $59,400.

Voting yes were board president Jon Guizar, board vice president Jeff Steiner, Julie Fitzgerald, Max Kroell, Donna Smith and Kimberly Weaver. Voting no were Mark Badger, Kristen Bruckner and Rodney Musser.

The needs assessment will be the first step in deciding the future of the elementary schools in the district. The district has four elementary schools — Bellefonte, Benner, Marion-Walker and Pleasant Gap.

Four firms put in bids to do the needs assessment. One firm — SitelogIQ — was considerably less than Hunt Engineering, coming in at $9,750, a fact not lost on Bruckner.

“I was leaning toward Hunt Engineering, I think they have a lot to offer. However, the price difference between SitelogIQ and Hunt is significant,” Bruckner said. “Hunt is six times more than what SitelogIQ is and I’m not sure that I’m able to justify Hunt being able to do six times more than what SitelogIQ is offering to do. I really struggled with that.”

Weaver said that she understood the appeal of SitlogIQ’s price tag.

“When a decision comes before the board, it is our responsibility to research, review, and analyze all of the proposals presented so we can make an informed decision. For my decision, I understand the cost discrepancy to both firms is significant. As a taxpayer, I can understand why some would be upset if I did not go with SitelogIQ, since they are the lower price,” Weaver said.

But in the end, Weaver decided to go with Hunt. She eloquently explained her reasoning.

“There are a few reasons why I chose Hunt. Hunt has a very encouraging community engagement piece. They also have a great way to capture data with an online component that seems to be very user friendly. They were honest and upfront regarding our aggressive timeline. They may be able to make it, but they may not either. The four members that presented to us, were the members of the team that we would be dealing with … I am choosing Hunt based on their values, ethics and the belief that they will help lead the entire community to the decision which is best for our children,” Weaver said.

Smith, who voted for Hunt, said that she spent the past week wrestling with the decision.

“The past week has been the hardest week, personally, that I’ve dealt with a board question because the price is significant. However, we did reject two firms that were even greater (cost) than Hunt … we paid $25,000 for a study four years ago and we are wanting that, plus more detail,” Smith said.

Several board members pointed out that SitelogIQ is formerly Reynolds Construction, the same group responsible for Rogers Stadium, which encountered several delays and ran behind schedule before officially opening in fall of 2019.

Musser voted no to Hunt and urged the board to consider SitelogIQ.

“I’m not going to hold them hostage for something that happened at the stadium because we had the wettest weather ever recorded in Pennsylvania … it has taken us over a year to get to this. Having said all that, I don’t condemn either one of them, but I am cognizant of the price … I’m still in favor of SitelogIQ because I do not see a significant difference,” Musser said.

But not everyone was sold on SitelogIQ. Steiner said that its low price tag was a red flag.

“(SitelogIQ) came in at $9,750, which to me, the price alone was disqualifying. It just does not begin to provide the services that we need for what we need to do on this project … I was not as happy or I did not see the kind of alignment from (SitelogIQ) about what we need to do for this project,” Steiner said. “I feel as though (SitelogIQ) missed the mark in terms of what they were proposing to do for the district.”

Guizar said that while Hunt’s $59,400 price tag didn’t touch SitelogIQ’s, he believes that it will be money well spent.

“I know this might not go over so well, but $50,000 is a drop in the bucket on a $30 million project,” Guizar said. “If you can’t bring the community along with you and come to consensus of what the community will support, we can have all the ideas we want here, it’s not going to fly, it’s not going to go through. We will not have a project.”

The board will meet again at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10. That meeting will be held at Benner Elementary, the board’s final stop on a tour of all four of the district’s elementary schools.