AASD won’t put project on ballot

Ceglar says putting proposal to referendum could shake bidders’ confidence

In a decision that affirms its desire to receive competitive bids for a planned building project, the Altoona Area School Board shot down a motion made by board member Sharon Bream to put the project on the May primary ballot for voters to decide.

Bream, Ed Kreuz and Ron Johnston voted to put the project to a voter referendum in May. Board President Dutch Brennan, Vice President Wayne Hippo, Dave Francis, Bill Ceglar, Kelly Irwin-Adams and Rick Hoover voted against it.

Francis noted that he still wanted to look at other building options, but he believes the job to make the decision rests with the board members elected by the voters.

Others, including Ceglar, stressed another point: Bids on the estimated $88 million project are open through the end of the month. The actual cost could come in lower, depending on how competitive the bids are.

But if the board were to put the project to referendum, it may shake bidders’ confidence in the board’s seriousness about the project, Ceglar said.

“If contractors don’t think we are serious about this, then you people over here are going to force bids to come in higher than what they would have been. We agreed a month or so ago to put this out to bid because we would get real numbers. … If you are going to do this, you at least ought to do this after the bids come in before you try to drive the price of our bids up to make it look like it’s coming in higher,” Ceglar said.

The project has been in the process since 2015, when KCBA Architects was hired to conduct a feasibility study.

“We have been working on this project since I was on the board,” Ceglar said. “I put two and a half years in this. We have gone through renovations, gotten prices on renovations … we were told that if we renovated, the building project was going to come in exactly, if not more than, if we build new.”

Bream said she has been going door to door, speaking with people about the project. She said people want to have a say.

“If I’m wrong and everyone wants the school, then the voters will show that,” she said.

Three members of the public commented on the issue before the board voted.

Chris Micah urged the board not to put the decision to voters:

“Voters did vote; they voted you into office. You are who we chose to be knowledgeable on this because we don’t have the time or interest. Don’t shirk your job.”

On the other hand, Autumn Temple urged the board to let voters decide.

“I own three rentals. If your tax base was accurate, I’d say go for it, but your tax base is not accurate,” she said.

Board member Rick Hoover stressed that residents have a misconception that if the board votes down the $88 million project, their taxes won’t go up.

“That’s not true,” he said. “If we don’t build new, we will still have to renovate this building, and your taxes will still go up.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.