The Indiana Area School District Board of Directors decided Monday night to set a maximum project budget, including construction and utilities, of $24 million for renovation and other work at the fire-damaged Eisenhower Elementary School.
However, another question was dropped from Monday’s agenda, which would direct architects at Buchart Horn of York to “state as part of the bid documentation a material completion date for the project” or an alternative material date.
He does not know when this question will be asked, said CEO Walter Schroth. The board will meet next Monday at 7pm to reorganize and then hold a regular meeting to discuss general purposes.
After a consensus of members voted 7-1 in an informal show of hands for $24 million (with principal Tom Harley attempting to continue attending the meeting by phone, apparently until his signal was lost when he had to leave another meeting before this informal voting), the board voted 6:2 for this number.
“I vote for what we can reasonably borrow,” said school principal Dr. Jim Shaffer during Schroth’s efforts to reach consensus among members who had previously been surprised by a potential total cost of $33.8 million, including $25,940,300 as a “maximum building construction cost,” for Eisenhower.
However, Shaffer also expressed concern about “how much we are willing to stretch this district to get what we want” in a community “where many people have a steady income.”
The previously proposed $8 million+, in excess of these previous “maximum” construction costs, would have covered matters such as asbestos removal and furniture for the complex at 1460 School St., which was damaged in a fire on April 16, 2021.
“I didn’t understand the process,” said principal Cinda Brode, who was among the seven who appeared to agree on $24 million, then joined principal Terry Kerr in voting no.
In public comments ahead of the board’s actions, Indiana-based retired social studies teacher Josie Cunningham reminded the board that “last year you made a decision to enter into a contract with your teachers’ union” for the next five years.
Now, she said, the board faces a decision that could affect the district for 25 to 50 years. She urged the board to “be reasonable in this decision.”
Schroth began the consensus effort by asking if anyone favored a cap of $32 million (two did), then $30 million (three), $28 million (three), and $26 million (three).
Voting for the $24 million cap were Schroth, Shaffer, board vice president Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro, and school principals Tamie Blank (“reluctantly yes”), Ronald Airhart, and Dr. Sue Rieg.
“I don’t think we have enough information to make a decision,” Kerr said during a discussion that covered much of a 40-minute special board meeting Monday night — a board meeting that was half an hour after it was scheduled to begin The meeting lasted at 6 p.m.
Attorney Ronald N. Repak said Eisenhower was also the topic of the day in the executive session for what he called “litigation against Eisenhower.” The board previously held an executive meeting on insurance-related matters related to the West End Indiana Borough school complex.
“It was a tense meeting,” Cuccaro said after Monday night’s adjournment.
Earlier, the board authorized a state-mandated Act 34 hearing to be held to address an Eisenhower project that was scheduled to take place last week.
That idea was withdrawn on November 15 because, as Schroth put it, “some of us were surprised by the potential overall cost of the Eisenhower renovation project.”
No new date was offered for this Act 34 hearing.