Dis­trict to use bond to fund lights

Board ap­proves is­suance for school ath­letic field project

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By BREN­DAN WILLS

WORCES­TER — In a 7-2 vote, the Methac­ton school board Tues­day ap­proved the is­suance of a $5.5 mil­lion bond to fund the dis­trict’s cap­i­tal cam­paign projects, pri­mar­ily the ath­letic field turf and lights project at the high school.

The ap­proval was granted fol­low­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion ex­plain­ing the de­tails of the po­ten­tial bonds by Glen Wil­liard, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Fi­nan­cial Man­age­ment Inc., and at­tor­ney Jonathan Cox of Rhoads and Si­non LLP, two fi­nan­cial con­sul­tants.

The dis­trict has the op­tion to is­sue a fixe­drate or vari­able rate bond, ac­cord­ing to Wil­liard. Us­ing cur­rent mar­ket es­ti­mates Wil­liard in­di­cated the dis­trict could bor­row the vari­able rate bond at less than 1.5 per­cent in­ter­est, or a fixed rate bond at be­tween 3 per­cent and 4 per­cent.

Wil­liard rec­om­mended the vari­able bond,

be­cause, he said, it of­fers the dis­trict the abil­ity to pre­pay the bond if bids for the con­struc­tion costs come in low or if the dis­trict finds unan­tic­i­pated rev­enue in the fu­ture.

The ap­proval to is­sue the bond came af­ter much dis­cus­sion by the board on is­sues that in­cluded not only rates, but also the fi­nan­cial fea­si­bil­ity of bor­row­ing such a large amount of money be­fore bids for con­struc­tion are re­ceived.

Board mem­ber Mark O’Neill, cit­ing his back­ground in fi­nance, ex­pressed reser­va­tions about bor­row­ing the money be­fore the cost of the project is known.

“I am fully in sup­port of the project but I think we jumped out of se­quence here,” O‘Neill said. “I just don’t think now is the time to ap­prove this.”

O’Neill said the mag­ni­tude of $5.5 mil­lion price tag and the fact that the bond would put the tax­pay­ers “on the hook” for 15 years means the board should take time to dis­cuss more fully the de­tails of the bond and con­struc­tion op­tions, which would in turn al­low the com­mu­nity more time to re­view the num­bers.

Board mem­ber Cath­leen Barone echoed O’Neill’s con­cerns and asked about the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of de­lay­ing the ap­proval un­til the next board meet­ing.

In re­ply, Su­per­in­ten­dent David Zerbe cited the need to give as much time as pos­si­ble for each en­tity in­volved in fi­nanc­ing and con­struct­ing the project.

“If we wait un­til the end of Fe­bru­ary or March we shorten the win­dow avail­able to put cer­tain con­tin­gen­cies in place,” Zerbe said.

Ear­lier in the meet­ing, Zerbe pre­sented the board with a time line for fi­nanc­ing and con­struct­ing the turf project. Bids are due Feb. 19, a con­tract will be awarded in March, and con­struc­tion will start in early April and will fin­ish by Sept. 9, he said.

“If we put it off for 30 days it doesn’t give the ad­min­is­tra­tion time to do the due dili­gence and to get it all done in time,” Zerbe said, cit­ing the ath­letic depart­ment’s need to sched­ule around con­struc­tion and the need to es­tab­lish a fundrais­ing com­mit­tee with enough time to aug­ment fi­nanc­ing the project. “My fear is that we will only have half a com­plex. My rec­om­men­da­tion is that we make a full com­mit­ment to our stu­dents to­day.”

Herbert Rothe, the school board vice pres­i­dent, agreed with Zerbe’s rec­om­men­da­tion to bor­row now.

“I think it’s very ad­van­ta­geous to bor­row the money now. We have to keep the wheels turn­ing on this,” Rothe said.

Rothe iden­ti­fied the po­ten­tial for low bids and fu­ture cap­i­tal projects as rea­sons for mov­ing for­ward with bor­row­ing. The board has time down the road to dis­cuss ad­di­tions and de­duc­tions for the project that will then give bet­ter es­ti­mates of how much of the bond will be used for the ath­letic fields, he said. Rothe also re­ferred to a pre­sen­ta­tion Zerbe gave that out­lined an es­ti­mated $4 mil­lion in other cap­i­tal cam­paign projects for each of the dis­trict’s schools, such as fa­cil­i­ties re­pairs and up­dates. Zerbe and Rothe both in­di­cated that if the ath­letic field con­struc­tion costs are lower than es­ti­mated, the rest of the bond money can be­gin to fund those other projects.

Board mem­ber Jim Phillips weighed in on the need to keep the project mov­ing along, say­ing the dis­trict has been talk­ing about up­dat­ing its ath­letic fa­cil­i­ties since the 1970s.

“When the bids come in we’ll have that lively de­bate,” Phillips said. “Once we come up with that plan and that num­ber, then we are go­ing to be able to de­ter­mine in our bud­get if we need to hold back money for fu­ture cap­i­tal projects.”

Board mem­ber Brenda Hack­ett said hav­ing the money avail­able be­fore the bid­ding process con­cludes might help with those ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“I think it will let the ad­min­is­tra­tion bar­gain from a po­si­tion of strength,” Hack­ett said.

At the Jan. 15 meet­ing of the Worces­ter Town­ship Board of Su­per­vi­sors, Methac­ton was given pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal ap­proval for land de­vel­op­ment at the high school ath­letic field com­plex.

On Feb. 4, the town­ship su­per­vi­sors will con­tinue the con­di­tional use hear­ing on the lights planned on the two turf fields cov­ered by the project.

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