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Divided AASB board OKs $1M bids

Administrative raises and approval of bids to create administrative offices spurred heated discussions Tuesday by the Altoona Area School Board in the final meeting for three outgoing members.

The school board’s reorganization meeting Dec. 2 will usher in three new board members to replace board President Dutch Brennan, Vice President Wayne Hippo and Bill Ceglar.

With their last meeting, the three members cast votes to approve bids of about $1 million to renovate a former bank building at 1201 Eighth Ave. to be the district’s new administrative building.

While their critics focus on the cost of that decision, Ceglar said it should be seen as a move that saves $3 million.

Originally, plans for the new high school building included administrative offices at a cost of $5 million, but after due diligence, Ceglar said, a board majority saw that it could potentially save that money by finding a separate building and renovating it for administrative offices. The board ended up purchasing the Investment Savings Bank building on Eighth Avenue for $700,000 and — on Tuesday — approving bids to renovate it for $1 million — saving about $3 million compared to including the offices in the new school, Ceglar said.

However, Sharon Bream and others on the board see the new administrative building as an unaffordable expense.

Bream made a motion, which failed 5-3, Tuesday to table the approval of the bids until the new board is established in December. She announced that the board members continuing on with new board members in December would want to examine keeping the B building open for administrative purposes only, instead of demolishing it and installing a field there.

Ed Kreuz and Ron Johnston supported her motion. But it failed as Brennan, Hippo and Ceglar along with Rick Hoover and Kelly Irwin-Adams approved the bids.

“We did already explore using the B building for administration offices. The cost to heat this building alone would be astronomical,” Ceglar said. “It also needs new electrical systems and it has roof issues. It would cost you a lot more than $1 million if you want to keep this building,” he said.

The board approval on Tuesday officially awarded the bids to contractors.

The new board in December could rescind them, but they would face the cost of a penalty, solicitor Carl Beard said.

Bream asked Beard to research the cost of the penalty.

A couple of other votes were especially contentious on Tuesday.

Administrative raises for both Superintendent Charles Prijatelj and Assistant Superintendent Patricia Burlingame passed 5-3.

Bream, Kreuz and Johnston voted against the raises although their votes could have broken contractual promises with the administrators.

Bream voted against the raises because of the $9 million budgetary deficit projected by the district’s business office.

“Why are we voting on raises. Haven’t you heard of the deficit?” she said.

Ongoing deficits could consume the district’s fund balance.

“Are you saying we should break the contract?” Brennan said.

“Well, I’m not going to vote for it. Let’s put it that way,” Bream said.

The raises are 2 percent salary increases — from $132,063 to $134,704 for Burlingame effective July 1, 2019. For Prijatelj, the raise takes his salary from $173,340 to $176,807, effective Aug. 1, 2019.

Later in the meeting another vote passed 5-3 to engineer roof repairs for Ebner Elementary School.

Bream questioned why roof plans had to be prepared by an outside engineer for $20,000.

Prijatelj said the total cost of a roof is more than $300,000 and preparing plans with details and specifications ensures the board doesn’t fall for a poor-quality roof replacement. So the board approved Weber Murphy Fox Inc. to prepare plans, details and specifications for the replacement of the Ebner Elementary roof per its proposal dated Oct. 11.

The total cost, not to exceed $20,000, is to be paid through Capital Reserve funds.

Bream said the district has staff members on the payroll who can engineer roof plans.

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