By Mary Spicer
It doesn’t matter whether you call it a gymateria or a cafenasium. Crawford Central School Board member Jan VanTuil doesn’t want students in a renovated Second District Elementary School using the same room as both a cafeteria and a gymnasium.
Plans for updating the 1920s-era structure this summer came to a screeching halt recently when four other board members agreed a reassessment was in order. The only question remaining to be settled is exactly what they want to change.
President Ross Prather, Vice President Asuman Baskan and member David Miller voted to proceed with the project as planned, while Carol Jones, Christine Lazusky, Stuart Rothman and Frank Schreck sided with VanTuil, putting the project on temporary hold.
“This building needs flexibility — it deserves what all the other buildings do or will have,” VanTuil said. “I would rather see it delayed than do it wrong.”
The discussion that took place during Monday’s board meeting got its start almost a week earlier, when the district’s architect, Ellis Schmidlapp of Landmarks Design Associates, attended a board work session, distributing drawings of proposed changes at First District and Second District elementary schools together with documents to be submitted to Pennsylvania Department of Education as part of its PlanCon requirements. PlanCon, an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used by Pennsylvania school districts undertaking major construction projects to apply for reimbursement from the state.
At this stage, the total cost of the First District project is estimated at $7,604,628, while the estimated total cost of the Second District project came in at $7,033,264.
Plans for First District, which includes the addition of a 2,150-square-foot cafeteria at the rear of the building, quickly got the go-ahead from the board.
When the board’s attention turned to Second District, “not having a cafeteria in this building is shooting ourselves in the foot,” VanTuil observed.
During the work session, Second District’s principal, Tamara Clark, told the board that when her building’s administrators and faculty objected to a 1,300-square-foot cafeteria, they were told by the architect that budgetary limitations on the project required staying within a building “footprint” already approved by the board. After considering the options available within the “footprint,” Clark and her colleagues agreed that a separate cafeteria should be eliminated and a large classroom worked into the plans instead.
At the time, Baskan observed that the board had to weigh the need for a separate cafeteria against the cost of the space.
“I don’t want to spend $7 million wrong if we could do something better,” VanTuil responded.
During Monday’s board meeting, the discussion continued. When the time came to approve PlanCon documents, Prather said he supported the Second District resolution precisely because it doesn’t have a separate gym and cafeteria. “We can’t have everything we desire,” he said.
Doing it right
“When we looked at the footprints of the buildings (presented by the architect in July 2007) as a board, a majority endorsed a cafeteria and a multipurpose room-gym in each school,” VanTuil said. “We also endorsed a large classroom.”
Jones, Lazusky and Schreck joined the board in December 2007.
Acknowledging that board members had expressed differences of opinion during the July discussion, “My goal was to make the buildings as flexible as possible, since the decision will have to stand for 20 to 25 years,” she explained. Unless a building experiences a substantial increase in enrollment, Pennsylvania Department of Education will reimburse a district for renovations or new construction only once every 20 years.
“The principal and the staff said they had been given a classroom-sized cafeteria,” VanTuil said. “That building needs flexibility — it deserves what all the other buildings do or will have.
“If the architect said adding a cafeteria would go over budget, the budget was wrong,” she continued.
“The EEPC figures were more accurate — they said it would cost $9 million-plus,” VanTuil added, referring to figures presented by Education Environment Planning Consultants, a group hired earlier in the project to advise the board on how to proceed. VanTuil noted that three other architects had given the board estimates similar to those submitted by EEPC.
Agreeing that the design for First District made maximum use of the available land, “I look at Second District — it has all that land around it,” she said. “It’s so much easier to design what we need.”
VanTuil pointed out that almost 80 percent of the 246 students attending Second District qualify for free or reduced lunches. The family income of those qualifying for free lunches — 195 of the students attending Second District — must be 130 percent or less of the federal poverty level. Families earning up to 185 percent of the poverty level — 22 students at Second District — qualify for reduced lunches.
“I really think these kids deserve us to fight for them,” VanTuil said. “We are not fighting hard enough for them. ... If you don’t spend enough to do it right the first time, you will have to spend more later.”
“The job of the board is to decide a budget we’re comfortable with,” Baskan responded. “Having done that, we have to make some very difficult choices.”
In the end, a majority of the board agreed to investigate other options.
“We’re working with Superintendent (Michael) Dolecki on plans to respond to the district’s concerns,” Schmidlapp said.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
By Mary Spicer
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