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School board battles over energy contract

May 14, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Debate over a proposed energy-savings contract in the Waynesboro Area School District led to tears and shouting on Thursday as the school board delayed making improvements to buildings.

The McClure Co. of Harrisburg, Pa., asked the board to accept a contract for its services. The company said it could save the district $1 million over 15 years by making system improvements.

The board voted 3-4 on a motion that would've given the board president authority to execute the McClure contract after the district's solicitor finished his review.

The board would've borrowed $4.4 million to pay McClure Co., then paid off that loan using funds that would otherwise go to increased electric costs as well as heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment and its upkeep, according to the district's Business Administrator Caroline Dean.

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McClure, which said it needs an immediate decision for work to be done this summer, said it could guarantee $1 million in savings beyond the loan amount.

After the vote, board member Pat Heefner started to cry, saying people at Fairview Elementary School tell her they get sinus infections and other illnesses from poor air quality.

"What do I say to those people?" she asked.

She and board member K. Marilyn Smith buried their heads into their hands a short time later.

"We have 'sick buildings' in this district. We have a golden opportunity, I feel, to address this in a timely manner," Heefner said, asking the other board members if they had looked at photographs of the ventilation systems.

Board member Leland Lemley said Heefner was not talking guardedly and the board should adjourn to a closed-doors session. Solicitor James Flower said it "might be appropriate to have an executive" session.

"If this (air quality) were discussed, I'd prefer you'd discuss it in executive session," he said.

When asked whether a lawsuit or writ of summons had been filed, or if the board had received other notification that it was being sued, Flower said it had not.

Pennsylvania's Open Meetings Act, often called the Sunshine Law, states a board can hold an executive session "in connection with litigation or with issues on which identifiable complaints are expected to be filed."

The board did not go into an executive session. Instead, the discussion shifted to why people voted no and the next step in the process.

"I asked for a contract two weeks ago and just received it. When I don't get the document, my vote is a no, OK?" board member Firmadge Crutchfield said.

Dean said she remembered being asked for historic data and verification of McClure's estimates, but not a copy of the contract.

"I still wouldn't have gotten it," Crutchfield muttered as he turned to his right side.

Board President Ed Wilson said he would've preferred an engineer had evaluated the buildings on the district's behalf. Dean reminded the board it recently spent $8,500 just to have specifications developed for a new elementary school roof.

"I felt Mr. Adams and I did the due diligence," Dean said, noting the process started in November 2008. "With all due respect, this stuff is blowing up and breaking as we speak."

Wilson said he didn't want to borrow money after two meetings of information. He said he has doubts when Dean says things are breaking because some things she's warned about years ago haven't happened.

The district replaced a cooling tower at Fairview Elementary School and a chiller at Hooverville Elementary School this year at a cost of more than $100,000.

Board member Billie Finn asked McClure to present information next week about tackling the neediest projects and doing work in phases.

"'No' doesn't mean never. 'No' means not right now," she said.

How they voted ...



Motion: Give the Waynesboro Area School Board president permission to execute a contract with McClure Co. once the district solicitor finishes his review of the document and finds it to be to his satisfaction.

Voting yes: Bonnie Bachtell, K. Marilyn Smith and Pat Heefner

Voting no: Billie Finn, Firmadge Crutchfield, Leland Lemley and Edward Wilson

Absent: Chris Lind and Brenda Lucas

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