By Mary Spicer
VERNON TOWNSHIP —
Amidst much talk of putting carts before horses, Crawford Central School Board gave a go-ahead to what may become the first step in moving the district’s Instructional Support Center from its current Vernon Township location to the former East End Elementary School on Walnut Street in the city of Meadville. The center houses the district administration offices.
The question before the board during its monthly meeting Monday night was whether to accept a proposal submitted by HHSDR Architects/Engineers to, according to the proposal, “draw plans and provide a building evaluation study. The goal is to identify options to modify approximately 50,000 square feet of classroom and office area in the building to accommodate a new district office suite and leasable classroom space.”
In a separate action Monday night, the board approved the leasing of four classrooms totaling 2,988 square feet on the second floor of the building to The Creating Landscapes Learning Center Inc. of Meadville. The leased space totals 17 percent of the structure’s 17,837 square feet of rentable classroom space.
The Sharon-based HHSDR has done multiple projects for the district in the past, including the original construction of both West End and Neason Hill elementary schools. Most recently, the firm handled the renovation and expansion of West End after the architect the district hired to renovate all its elementary facilities was replaced after completing the first four schools on the list. HHSDR was also the architect in charge of the recent renovation and expansion of Crawford County Career and Technical Center.
Board member Frank Schreck was opposed to bringing in an architect at all, saying that CCCTC students recently renovated two classrooms at their school without the assistance of an architect — and did a fine job. “I would like to see students go up and do what needs to be done,” he said.
Dave Dickson, the district’s supervisor of buildings, grounds and transportation, objected. “Life safety issues need to be reviewed,” he said. “You need an architect.”
Superintendent Charlie Heller agreed, saying, “We have to look at HHSDR’s report as a wise investment.”
Mitch Roe didn’t see the investment as wise, saying that the board wants to make decisions that are sound — specifically, not influenced by an architect.
“I would feel better if we got an offer on the Instructional Support Center — and have the check in hand — before doing the East End study,” Vice President Jon DeArment argued.
In response to a question from President Jan VanTuil about how district officials would be able to answer phone calls from people interested in either East End or the Instructional Support Center without having results of the study at hand, “I’ve had a belly full of getting expert opinions,” Schreck said.
As the discussion continued, Heller noted that East End has 50,000 square feet of space while the current Instructional Support Center has only 9,000 square feet of available space — and doesn’t need even that much. “We need to listen to experts,” he said. “It’s a small investment.”
Dickson agreed. “You need to check it out,” he said.
“It makes more sense to find out which building could get sold first,” DeArment insisted. “We can do (the study on East End) when we have a buyer for this building. We need the money first.”
Richard Curry disagreed. “If someone wants to buy this building, they’re not going to want to wait for two years for us to make the move.”
Roe disagreed. “We need to know exactly how much we can get,” he said.
“I brought this to the board and was told to go forward,” Heller said, disbelief apparent in his voice. “I’ve already started. Now you’re telling me that you don’t want to do it?”
In the 24 years she’s been on the school board, VanTuil recalled, there have only been two pieces of district-owned property that the board has been approached about selling. “This is one of them,” she said, noting that no inquiries have been received in recent years. “Just the zoning alone makes (the Instructional Support Center) more marketable,” she added, noting that allowable uses for the Walnut Street property are extremely limited.
After Heller pointed out that if the board wanted the work to be done “in-house” by students from CCCTC, it would take a long time because each student can only work approximately two hours per day, the vote proceeded.
In the end, the eight board members present all agreed to authorize HHSDR to begin the study, which is expected to take approximately three months to complete. Kevin Maziarz, whose resignation was accepted later in the meeting, was absent.