Pattye Benson

Community Matters

T/E School District to Build the ‘Taj Mahal’ or … Otherwise Known as the New ‘Maintenance & Storage Building’!

The school district’s planned maintenance and storage building on Old Lancaster Avenue, next to TE Middle School, has mushroomed into a major multi-million dollar project!

The District’s plan is to demolish and replace the existing maintenance and storage building on the site with a new 12,000 square ft. building with 29 parking spaces. If you recall, the District purchase purchased an adjacent property, 892 Old Lancaster Avenue in August 2012, for $265K and paid to have the house demolished to have it in the ready for the new maintenance building.

According to the District’s ‘Capital Sources & Usage Report’ in October 2013, the estimated building costs for the new maintenance and storage building was $2.7 million. During 2014, the proposed construction cost escalated another $500K to and an estimate of $3,177,500. Fast-forward to the last District Facilities Meeting and the Taj Mahal (sorry maintenance and storage building) construction estimates has soared again. The new estimate for the building is $3,966 … nearly $4 million to store tractors, snowplows and extra paper towels. Wow.

Why the significant increase? In two years, the building costs have escalated from $2.7 to $4 million! According to the Facilities Committee documents, some of the additional costs of the nearly $1 million increase is for site work, including the mitigation of unsuitable soil. Soil testing has revealed that the soil on the site is fill. Up to 8 feet of soil has to be removed and then replaced in one foot ‘lifts’, each one being compacted.

Other reasons for the increase are related to the final design of the storm water system (particularly given that this large building is going in to a residential neighborhood), the replacement of the retaining wall, final design of foundations, and landscaping.

It really is inaccurate to say that the District’s new maintenance and storage building is a $4 million project. You have to add in the purchase of the neighbor’s property, District studies, township fees, geotechnical soil survey, traffic study, Chester Valley engineering, legal and architectural fees, etc. etc. which make the final cost more likely $5 million than the current estimate of $4 million!

The Facilities Committee documents also contained the following language concerning the maintenance and storage building:

As we develop the construction documents, we will continue to make the building as economical as possible. But the scope of the site development is established. In our experience Becker & Frondorf is a conservative estimator, so we would expect some movement in the number, but I do not expect a significant reduction.

For anyone that has been involved in a construction project of even the smallest scope, there’s never a ‘reduction’ from the original estimate. From personal experience, construction projects always end up with unexpected ‘add-ons’!

In a comment from Ray Clarke on the subject of the maintenance and storage building, he states, “That $4 million purchases 11,600 square feet ground level, 3,300 square feet “mezzanine”: $270 per square foot cost. Google tells me “a typical 20,000-square-foot warehouse will cost you about $35 a square foot”. How, or rather ‘why’ should the school board allocate $270/square foot cost if a typical warehouse space should cost $35/square ft. Even if Ray’s Google search is off by an order of magnitude, how can this building cost this much money!

The District’s planned Taj Mahal of a maintenance building is on Tredyffrin Township’s Planning Comission’s agenda tomorrow night for Final Land Development approval. The meeting is at the township building at 7 PM. On May 7, the District released a RFP requesting sealed bids for the new maintenance and storage building listing a deadline of 1 PM on Friday, June 5. If all goes well at the Planning Commission meeting, my guess is that this project is on a fast track for a summer start date!

How can the District possibly afford a $5 million maintenance and storage building? Seriously, spending $5 million on a maintenance building does not benefit the kids or the quality of the education in the school district. Taxes go up year after year, yet the Board tells us that they are continuing to look at ways to reduce spending. If that is true, why not look at other solutions to the District’s storage problem that don’t include spending mega-million dollars for a maintenance building.

The Board wants us to believe that they must outsource the aides and paraeducators because the District cannot afford to pay health care but … somehow; there is money for a $5 million maintenance and storage building. Anyone else but me think that there’s something wrong with this picture?

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    1. If you remember, TENIG came close the last couple of outsourcing rounds. You know I didn’t think about that angle until right now — if they spend $5 million on a maintenance building, how could the Board possibly consider outsourcing that group?? TENIG’s contract will be up for negotiations just about the time the building is completed!

  1. Once upon a time, this building may have been a good idea. The district researched alternative sites and existing buildings and concluded that the Old Lancaster Road site was the best option. That was a long time ago, though, and I seem to recall that the cost then was $2 million, although the first reference Pattye has found is for the $2.7 million.

    The key point, though, is that the cost has increased at least 50% (and probably more with the items Pattye mentions, plus things like the cost of leasing alternative space for the duration of the construction). And those cost increases are in large part because of the contortions required to fit the building into a site that’s really not suitable. Surely that warrants revisiting the calculus?

    Yet the Facilities Committee seemed to take the latest three quarters of a million dollar ($788,000!!) increase (INCREASE!) in stride. Audience ideas for alternatives were dismissed – for example the 3 acre ESC site (where storage sheds are to remain!!) and 5 acre playing field are being “held for a possible new elementary school”: REALLY? Could you find an existing 15,000 sq ft building today for less than $4 million? We don’t know, but surely we should find out.

    Here is really where we need the Board to step up and do some critical thinking. Instead, they are rushing through a bid approval at the next Facilities Committee (June 12th, 12 noon) and Board meeting (June 15th, 7:30pm). This alarming complacency and debonair spending of taxpayer money mirrors the experience with the fences and even with projects like the New Eagle classroom addition, where half a million dollars of “interior renovations” got added to a capital cost projection of $1.1 million with nary a question that I heard.

    So before the excavators start removing eight (8!) feet of dirt from the Old Lancaster Road site, and the heavy equipment starts pounding it back in twelve inch steps and shaking the foundations across the street, everyone should make their views heard to their neighbors, to the School Board, collectively and individually, to the media, to our State Representative and Senator, and to anyone else relevant, plus show up at the meetings (however inconvenient the 12 noon on a Friday in June schedule may be).

    This project may still make sense. But before spending $4+ million bond money that will cost FUTURE taxpayers $6+ million to repay, the current Board should fulfill its fiduciary duty and let FUTURE Boards decide if they want it.

  2. Is there really anyone out there that can stop this wasteful spending? Are there community members out there that are trying to stop it?

  3. Yes Debbie, Citizens can stop this by (as Ray just posted)

    So before the excavators start removing eight (8!) feet of dirt from the Old Lancaster Road site, and the heavy equipment starts pounding it back in twelve inch steps and shaking the foundations across the street, everyone should make their views heard to their neighbors, to the School Board, collectively and individually, to the media, to our State Representative and Senator, and to anyone else relevant, plus show up at the meetings (however inconvenient the 12 noon on a Friday in June schedule may be).

    Yes, there are many community members out there trying to stop it by following Ray’s instructions above. Please help by doing the same.

    When good people do not take action against perceived inequities, then they will be ruled by the people they did not stop.

  4. YES the impacted neighbors myself included put up a valiant effort to stop this madness. Our lives & properties will be TOTALLY disrupted for over one year actually forever..just because one person wants(DEMANDS) it gets “crammed” on Old Lancaster RD….The final insult was reducing the fences to 4ft because they forgot to get zoning approval for 6ft. Very grateful to neighbors, friends and the township staff,admin and various boards they actually listened to us but in the end the district won this round. MEMO to TESD YOU ARE NOT A GOOD NEIGHBOR!!!!!!!!

  5. Final land development was granted unanimously by the Planning Commissioners. To their credit, multiple meetings the Commissioners have listened to the Old Lancaster neighbors and as a result, pushed the maintenance building architects to improve design elements, such as landscaping and lighting, to help the neighbors.

    During the discussion of the project, several Planning Commissioners, including PC Chair Tory Snyder, expressed disappointment that the School District had not been more open and forthcoming with the neighbors regarding the project plans, etc. for the site. With one Commissioner stating that the developers are held to a higher standard when it comes to involving the community members in plans. The TESD attorney responded to the Planning Commissioners criticism, by stating that the difference is that the TE School District is a public entity and their meetings are held in the public — translation, the public can attend mid-day Facilities Committee meeting.

    One neighbor on Old Lancaster then responded that she had attended all of the Facilities Committee and still did not receive answers and that the District plans were not shared with the neighbors.

  6. It is beyond disingenuous of school board directors to justify outsourcing valuable employees -who actually have daily hands on contact with students – saying there’s no money in the budget to cover their meager salaries, and then, no questions asked, take in stride a three quarter of a million dollar cost increase in a Maintenance Building.

    Their actions truly show what is important to them, and it isn’t the students, it isn’t the aides/paras (watch out TENIG) and it isn’t the tax payer.

    Their actions show that what is important to them are out of control costs on a Maintenance Building that no one wants, cares about or wants to pay for, unwanted fencing construction that defies logic and fiscal responsibility and Administrator Bloat.

    Actions speak louder than words.

    Vote for Neal. His actions match his words.

  7. This multi million $$$ project is moving rapidly ..
    the pre-bidders & 2 architects were out in force this morning.
    Just wondering when they’ll inform the neighbors ..2 days before demo???????????

  8. Does anyone know why there is a Policy committee meeting scheduled for tonight from 6:30 to 11:00?

    1. Regularly scheduled meeting. I doubt it would go as late as 11pm unless there’s a lot of citizen input on agenda items like target maximum class size (22-27, but not inviolable), student residency requirements (juniors that move away after end of school year remain OK for senior year), 1st Grade admission birthdates (age 6 by Jan 31 rather than Nov 30), paid sick days for non-contract employees (10-12 days).

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