BLOSSBURG - In an about-face Monday, with all members in attendance, the Southern Tioga School board decided to reject the bids for its original plan of reconstructing North Penn High School and renovating Blossburg Elementary School and instead asked its architect to create a new design for a grades seven through 12 high school in Blossburg.
Following a presentation by Sam Scarantino, architect with Quad 3, who explained that the state Department of Education would not require them to resubmit their PlanCon documents as long as they treated the project as being for two separate schools, the board voted 8-1 to reject the current bids, which came in high, close to what it has left in its bond issue of more than $18 million.
In the vote, board members Bob McConnell, Barb Shull, Ivan Erway, Stephen Hall, Sue Jaquish, Sally Knipe, Frank Kollar and Kyle Lefheloc all voted in favor of rejecting the bids.
Only board member Dan Berguson voted against rejecting the bids, saying he is concerned if they rebid the project with a reduced scope of work to create the scenario recommended by Superintendent Keith Yarger and his administration, the next bids to come in may be much higher.
The board then voted unanimously to allow Scarantino to work up a design for a $3 million to $4 million less project at North Penn that would make it a 7-12 high school, with minimal work done to the elementary school portion of the building so it still may be used by the district, just not as an elementary school.
Jaquish wanted to know how it would affect the construction timeline to close another school, as it would have to be advertised, a public hearing held and the staff notified, all well in advance of closing the school.
Berguson said it would take at least 165 days, giving the board a little more than two weeks to close the school and reassign students before the next school year begins.
Prior to the vote, during the public comment section, several people from Liberty and Cogan House townships spoke, including Dorothy Norman, of Liberty Township, who accused five on the board of pushing the project through to save the North Penn football program.
Norman told the board that the community gathers at Liberty High School as a focal point for a rural area.
"We come together to our rural school as a community. We are not worried about football or basketball, which is not running our school or influencing our votes," she said. "You can't tell me this isn't influencing some of you."
Todd Smith, of Cogan House Township, asked the board to "keep economic factors in mind" as it moves forward.
"I am convinced this country will be facing a recession next year. I hope I am wrong. I also read today that Gov. (Tom) Corbett said the state will lose $300 million in revenue next year. I don't think we will get more money for education. It will be either flat-lined or, sadly, less. With that in mind, I have trouble understanding why anyone wants to go into more debt," he said.
Smith also warned the board that if Cogan House Township, for instance, was to secede from the district, it would lose 11 percent of its revenue.
"There are a lot of angry people here. All it would take is for one township to secede. All it takes is another school board to accept it and the secretary of education to approve it," Smith said.
The board will meet Jan. 7 for a work session at North Penn High School's auditorium.