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Penn-Trafford board updated on high school construction

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Though school board members got an update behind closed doors on Monday, residents might have to wait until next month to get more details about the upcoming improvements to Penn-Trafford High School.

Board members met with a project architect in an executive session before their board meeting on Monday to receive more information about building construction, board President P. Jay Tray said.

In June, the board unanimously agreed to cap a construction project at $32 million. That figure represents the amount that board members say the district will be able to repay through its existing debt structure over a 12-year period without raising taxes.

Much of the work is expected to improve the building's infrastructure, such as the plumbing, electrical, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and upgrades to the kitchen.

Board members wanted more detail from the architect about how the money will be spent, Tray said after the board meeting on Monday.

“It's all within the original scope,” he said. “It's just more detail.”

Those details might be made public as soon as a meeting in October, board member Toni Ising said.

Though Tray said the board didn't have deliberations about the project, the private session sets a “terrible precedent” for the public's ability to learn about a taxpayer-funded project, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

The concept of an information-gathering meeting as an appropriate exception to the state's Sunshine Act will be debated today, Thursday, before the state Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will review whether the Commonwealth Court erred last year by finding that a board of supervisors in Berks County did not violate open-meeting rules by having private meetings with representatives of neighboring municipalities, a residents group and a quarry.

The Commonwealth Court held that the meetings were appropriate because they were held “solely for informational purposes.”

Melewsky, who filed a brief supporting a resident who complained about the private meetings, called information-gathering meetings “problematic.”

“It cuts the public out of the process,” she said.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 86711

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