Renewed interest for bus facility gains traction at Exeter schools committee meeting
Nearly two years after the Exeter Township School District lost a court battle to build a new bus facility on Boyertown Pike, the topic has been resurrected by school board members at a recent committee meeting.
The hope of a new bus facility has a long, drawn-out history starting back to 2014 when the issue was first acted on by the school board.
Proponents of the plan stated the existing facility located on Kerr Road was inadequate in size and the building that sits on the property was in disrepair.
In that plan, officials hoped to construct a four-bay bus transportation facility adjacent to the Owatin Creek Elementary School on Boyertown Pike.
The proposed transportation facility, dubbed the ‘Garage Mahal’ by critics, carried a price tag upwards of $3.4 million and was set to move forward in 2015 pending the approval for a special exception by the Exeter Township Zoning Hearing Board.
That exception, however, was unanimously denied on August 25, 2015 by zoning officials, stating the desired location adjacent to Owatin Creek Elementary School was not an accepted use of the land. The school district felt differently; believing that the new facility should be allowed on the property as an accessory use.
Because of the disagreement, a majority of school board members sought an appeal in October of 2015 where it had been tied up in the courts until the decision was laid out several years later.
The school district had filed two lawsuits in Berks County Court; a zoning appeal, and the other, a declaratory judgment to assert the district’s right to decide where public school facilities are constructed.
The township argued that the school district failed to exhaust all options before the complaint was filed; stating the district never asserted its challenge to the zoning ordinance by appeal to the Exeter Township Zoning Hearing Board, nor did they challenge the validity of the zoning ordinance to the Exeter Township Board of Supervisors.
In February of 2018, Judge James M. Lillis ruled in favor of Exeter Township after hearing the case.
Both the zoning appeal and declaratory judgment brought forth by the school district were denied in the ruling. The matter largely ended soon after with the school district abandoning the project.
That was until last week.
In official minutes obtained for the January 13, 2020 facilities committee meeting, Exeter school board members expressed interest in finding a new bus facility for the district’s transportation fleet and staff once again.
The news comes several months after the school board made a decision not to outsource their transportation services, following a year of research into the possibility.
Rick Wegman, transportation supervisor, indicated the existing facility is suffering from a bad roof accompanied by leaks, in addition to a lack of space.
Robert H. Quinter, Jr., a former school board member involved in the prior facility initiative, offered the committee his thoughts on the issue.
Quinter believed the current facility on Kerr Road was too small and suffered from code violations. His recommendations leaned towards revisiting the Owatin Creek site or looking at leasing property on West Neversink Road which he claimed was owned by J.P. Mascaro & Sons.
According to the documents, Quinter intends to arrange a meeting with the property owner. The desired outcome of that meeting or how school board members would become involved in those discussions was not mentioned.
School board members John Fidler and Hurey Miller plan to visit the current facility on Kerr Road for an assessment.
A future meeting to discuss the transportation facility is expected to be scheduled.
In other business:
The committee also looked at ways to efficiently use the space at the current Lausch Administration Building located on Elm Street in St. Lawrence Borough.
Officials indicated the building can accommodate over 500 students but is only being utilized by 45 staff members. Ideas to convert the space to allow leasing other areas in the building are being explored with cost estimates ranging from $1 million to $5 million.
The potential of a cellular phone tower or amplification devices are being explored for the Owatin Creek Elementary building. Cellular connectivity has been an ongoing challenge in the building, officials said.
Anne Guydish, business manager, presented financials for the district’s capital reserve fund. The fund creates the opportunity for a school district to set aside necessary funds in advance, allowing a district to avoid excessive short-term borrowing. Expenditures in the fund are generally isolated to property construction and maintenance.
The beginning balance for the capital reserve fund for the 2020-2021 budget year was $8.14 million. After anticipated projects are completed, only $2.7 million is projected as a remaining balance in the fund after the 2021-2022 budget year.