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Bellefonte chooses firm to assess future of elementary school

by on March 13, 2020 10:52 AM

BELLEFONTE — The much-discussed elementary school project in Bellefonte is moving forward. The Bellefonte Area School District Board voted 6-3 to retain Hunt Engineering, an architect and engineering firm with locations in New York and Pennsylvania, to conduct a needs assessment for district elementary buildings — the first step in deciding what do to about the district’s elementary schools.

The board made the decision at its Feb. 25 meeting after previously hearing proposals from four firms that also included SitelogIQ, Weber Murphy Fox and W2A Design Group, along with Hunt.

The declined bids came at costs of $92,500, $89,000 and $9,750. Hunt’s bid comes with a cost of $59,400 for the district to complete the assessment. After discussion on the extreme difference in the cost between the two lowest bids, board president Jon Guizar, board vice president Jeff Steiner, and members Julie Fitzgerald, Max Kroell, Donna Smith and Kimberly Weaver voted “yes” to Hunt. Voting “no” were board members Mark Badger, Kristen Bruckner and Rodney Musser.

The needs assessment will include professional services with architects and engineers working on the frontend to conduct the evaluation of each elementary building in the district, said Steiner in a press release. With data compiled, a community engagement piece will be included to make sure all stakeholders — including district staff, tax payers and more — are part of the process.

After the assessment is completed the board and district will use the information to determine whether or not elementary schools within Bellefonte Area School District should be renovated, a new elementary building be constructed or both.

Elementary schools within the district are Bellefonte, Benner, Marion-Walker and Pleasant Gap.

According to the district webpage, several years ago the board decided to come up with a proposed elementary school building plan. Information from the website said the board hired Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates to conduct a facility cost index study primarily for elementary school buildings within the district that determined how much it would cost approximately to build new or renovate existing facilities.

That study also provided a numerical status of each building that shows how much of its useful life has expired. The higher the number the worse off the building is and the findings showed Bellefonte Elementary School at a 99; Benner Elementary at an 89; Pleasant Gap at an 83; and Marion-Walker at a 32.

The board also approved the $4.5 million purchase of 107.57 acres of land behind the high school in October 2011 with the intent of building a new elementary building.

In November, the board decided to nix the project and restart with efforts at a later date to ensure a more thoughtful process. Proposals still include renovations and/or construction of a new elementary school building, based on results of the needs assessment, community input and other factors.

Voting in favor of Hunt, at least two school board members said they believed

SitelogIQ was “solicitous” in its bid proposal by dropping its price of the needs assessment with the hope to gain more business from the school district in the future and therefore disqualifying SitelogIQ for the needs assessment based on perceived violation of the RFP.

Steiner said he was expecting to receive bids between $50,000 to $70,000 for the amount of work that is needed to be completed, and said the low bid from Reynolds was enough to disqualify them for the project.

“Reynolds (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 Reynolds about what we need to do for this project,” Steiner said.

In its request for proposal, the board and district required bidding companies to follow a certain scope of services. It stated, “The project shall be a re-design collaboration between all stakeholders to reach a conclusion on an equitable elementary program in the district. All respondents should understand that the firm selected through this pre-draft RFP will not be eligible to bid on the design phase of the elementary project.”

“To me, it was not a responsible bid. For me, you cannot do business that way,” said Guizar. “You can not do business that way. They are hoping for something in the future. I know in the end they said that if they don’t get anything they will wash their hands and move on, but it wasn’t presented that way. It was a low-ball attempt to beat out people who would be quoting the work legitimately.”

Guizar said that other firms had stated they would spend 600 to 700 hours on the assessment in their proposals while planning on investing 250 hours into the project, making some school board members say they didn’t believe SitelogIQ would put in the time to conduct quality work.

“So they are already committed to losing money. They are committing to putting 250 hours in, which is a fourth of the time the other firms are putting in,” said Guiziar. “When the chips come down, and they are not even a full-service firm, they are counting on a lot of subcontractors.”

Those in opposition of retaining Hunt for the needs assessment cited the nearly $50,000 price difference between Hunt and Sitelogiq, formerly known as Reynolds Construction.

“I was leaning toward Hunt Engineering. I think they have a lot to offer. However, the price difference between SitelogIQ and Hunt is significant,” said Bruckner. “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.”

Musser said that he did not see a significant difference in the two proposals, noting they were “similar.” And while 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 did not want to hold that against the firm.

“I understand that they are not going to be apples to apples, but they are still of the fruit variety,” said Musser. “They are in accordance of what our RSP was. I am not going to hold them hostage to something that happened at the stadium, because we had the wettest weather ever recorded in Pennsylvania … having said that, I don’t condemn either one of them, but I am cognizant of the price.”

Badger said the firm was up front with what it is trying to do and the cost difference was too big to overlook.

“SitelogIQ was right up front and they said this was going to be a loss to us, but it is an important part of their overall company philosophy,” said Badger. “Yes, they have read the RFP … they know they are not in the line, but they said if there are any future other business they would like to bid on, that hopefully it leaves a good taste in our moths for something in the future. For those reasons, I think both proposals are very good, they are both data driven, yes slightly different data, but I think they can do the job and I think in the end it is financial decision. They are both doing the contract, and what we want them to do for us, so we go for the one that is cheaper.”

Smith said that while she understood the thought process of going for the lowest price tag, she was unsure about the level of community involvement that would be offered by SitelogIQ, something that the board had made clear was an important part of the process. She also noted that Hunt’s proposal was significantly less money than the two highest proposals. Weaver said they felt that the bid from Hunt matched the district values for the students.

“I am making this decision based solely on the price tag. I am choosing Hunt because I think they will do a better job on this project. I believe that Hunt will not give us a haphazard, second-rate, quickly produced project,” said Weaver. “Hunt’s price includes sufficient time to engage all of our stakeholders in this project. 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.”

The proposals can be viewed on the district website at www.basd.net/page/14912.



Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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