The Gettysburg Area School District (GASD) Board of Directors voted last night to reject a proposed $33,789,000 project that would have replaced the HVAC systems and perform other work at James Gettys and Lincoln elementary schools.
The vote effectively delays the project at least a year unless there is an emergency.
The business meeting was preceded by a citizen’s statement by Mike O’Bryant, which largely anticipated the subsequent discussion. O’Bryant expressed a particular concern about the inclusion of smart lighting in the project. Referring to the discussion at the last meeting, he observed that there did not appear to be any cost benefit analysis of the project and no indication the equipment is failing.
“It’s only the age of the system,” he said. O’Bryant also asked why it was necessary to replace the roofs and ceilings, and whether there was evidence that smart lighting saves money. “It seems that nobody has taken a really hard look at what needs to be done vs. what’s nice to do,” he said.
The decision couldn’t be put off. If the project wasn’t approved at this meeting, it would not be possible to sign the contract in time to avoid anticipated cost increases after the start of the new year or to proceed with the project next summer.
Board member concerns revolved around the need to replace the HVAC right now and specific items, including smart lighting, included in the project.
Board member Tim Seigman summarized the reasons supporting a go-ahead, including the likelihood the project would be more expensive in the future, the availability of COVID-related funds to pay for it, and the fact that equipment needed for the construction was currently available.
“We are going to have to do this at some point in time,” said Seigman. “I’m looking at either paying for it now at a lower price or waiting two years and paying double or what we’re paying plus half and wasting more money. That doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said. “You’re not going to get a bond two years from now for that interest rate.”
Board member Michelle Smyers, who was critical of the contracting method and source selection at the previous meetings, questioned the need to replace the equipment right now, the inclusion of smart lighting, and the need to approve right now.
“I don’t like it when somebody tells me you have to act and you have to act right now,” said Smyers. “Because when someone tells me that I think ‘yeah, I don’t think so.'”
Several other members also expressed concern about the scope of the project and inclusion of smart lighting.
Director of Facilities Josh Reynolds said it would be possible to remove the smart lighting going forward but that the overall budget would not be changed. “There is no intention after tonight to come back and get another approval for the project,” said Reynolds.” “We will work with (contractor) Trane and their design engineer to get as much scope in the project for that budget number.
Reynolds said the roof and the HVAC system were functioning properly now but that the district had always acted proactively to prevent a situation in the future where a system would fail. “If we were to wait a year or two or three and things start to fail, we’ve got two things working against us. One, we’ve got escalation and also we don’t have large equipment we’re going to need,” he said.
When the question was called and Hassigner, Al Moyer, Mike Dickerson, and Seigman voted in favor while Hodges, Linn, Ryan Morris, Smyers, and Jeremy Davis voted against.
Legislative Committee Chair Amybeth Hodges reported on certain legislative proposals now being considered in Harrisburg.
Leon Reed, staff writer, is a former US Senate staff member, defense consultant, and history teacher. He is a seven year resident of Gettysburg, where he writes military history and explores the park and the Adams County countryside. He is the publisher at Little Falls Books, chaired the Adams County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee and is on the board of SCCAP and the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. He and his wife, Lois, have 3 children, 3 cats, and 5 grandchildren.