Renovation dominates board meeting

LEWISTOWN – Renovation projects, specifically the ongoing effort underway at the Mifflin County Junior High School, dominated the discussion at Thursday’s workshop meeting of the Mifflin County School District Board of Directors.

At the junior high school, change orders, particularly one that totals more than $170,000 to replace bad piping found in a crawlspace, generated the most concern.

On hand to discuss the matter were Jerry Myers of Reynolds Construction, project manager for the project, and Vern McKissick, president of McKissick & Associates of Harrisburg, the architectural firm that designed the renovations.

McKissick said the change order, which totals $177,796.81, was necessitated when contractors uncovered issues with piping that is essentially rotting away. Because of the location, it was not able to be spotted until after asbestos removal work was completed, McKissick said.

“The original estimate for replacing the cold water piping, which is used for water fountains and toilets, was $348,000,” McKissick said, adding that through intense negotiations with the contractor, that number was able to be reduced to the current figure.

Superintendent James Estep said problems such as this are common, especially in a building as old as the junior high school. Because of that, he and McKissick built up the contingency funds more than usual in the case of such an emergency.

“Because of the age of that particular building and with an earlier circumstance with a project similar to this, we put the contingency fund at around 6 percent of the total project cost,” Estep said, noting that normally on a renovation project such as this, the fund, which is used to draw money to pay for unexpected change orders, is around 3 or 4 percent. “We expected to run into these sort of situations,” Estep added.

McKissick also pointed out that the project’s $848,000 contingency fund is running a negative balance due to some large credits that have occurred since the project began.

“We endeavor to do our best on renovation projects when dealing with buildings from the 1950s or 60s,” McKissick pointed out. “There’s a lot of moving parts in these kinds of projects.”

The board is scheduled to vote on this and several other change orders at its regular business meeting June 26.

On a related note, Brad Remig, managing director of Public Financial Management Inc. of Harrisburg, the district’s financial advisor, was on hand to report that his firm is ready to move forward on a bond issue of $7.5 million to finance the rest of the junior high project. Remig said that district’s credit rating is excellent and interest rates are a bit lower than they were when he last visited in November.

“Now is a good time to do this,” he stated.

Chief Financial Officer Sean Daubert said funds have already been put in place in the 2014-15 general fund budget, that the board will be voting on at next week’s meeting, to begin paying off that debt. The bond issue will be for 20 years, Daubert noted.

“We’ve worked very hard to place our debt into a situation we can handle,” he added.

Estep noted that the district’s peak debt service stands at roughly $7.5 million.

“You are looking at a budget of around $70 million” for next year, Estep told the board. “The local effort is still right around 10 percent (of the budget). When people stop you in the street saying we’re spending too much money on the new high school and all these renovation projects, you should note that across the commonwealth, most districts’ debt service stands at between 15 and 18 percent. So in spite of how much renovating and building we’ve done here, we’ve been conservative with the 10 percent debt service.”

In other business Thursday, Daubert noted that budget to be voted on next week, totaling $70,489,385, is the same proposal the board tentatively approved in May. It includes a real estate tax increase of 2.4992 mills, which represents a hike of 8.1 percent, or an average increase of $92.64 per taxable parcel.

Other agenda items slated for a vote at the board’s June 26 meeting include:

A recommendation to hire Mitch Ritter and Anthony Shearer as summer painters effective June 9.

Final adoption of the 2014-15 general fund budget in the amount of $70,489,385.

Adoption of the following tax resolutions for the 2014-15 fiscal year: real estate tax of 33.4511 mills; a $5 tax on each resident of the district over the age of 18; a resident tax of $5; a $10 flat rate local services tax; a 1 percent real estate transfer tax; and a 1.35 percent earned income tax.

A recommendation to approve the 2014 Homestead and Farmstead exclusion resolution.

A recommendation to approve the 2014-15 general supply bids in the amount of $275,640.05.

A recommendation to elect Sean Daubert school board treasurer for a term of one year effective July 1.

The resignation of cafeteria worker Debra Beach effective June 5.

Approval of the milk and bread bids for 2014-15.

The resignation of Jenna Scanlin, autistic support teacher at the middle school, due to personal reasons.

The deletion of Brad Ream and Sharon Hagerty from the substitute teacher list.

The addition of Sarah Strunk, school nurse certification; M. Elizabeth Knepp, elementary certification; Tina Goss, elementary certification; and Marcia Leister, elementary and special education certification; to the substitute teacher list.

Approval of the recommended revised job description for Director of Special Education.

The voluntary resignation of Melvin Hesser due to declination of a job offer (recall) effective June 16.

The resignation of Lisa Avedician, paraprofessional at the high school, effective Aug. 18, due to relocation.

Approval of the following volunteer coaches for next school year: Brian Rodgers, Jonathan Baker, Raymond Kilinger and William Napikoski, football; Barrett Knepp, girls soccer; and Mark Cavanaugh, wrestling.

Approval of the 2014-15 athletic regulations.

Approval of the request from the varsity girls basketball team to attend the Boardwalk Basketball Classic in Wildwood, N.J. from Dec. 26-30.