'Huge shock' from prevailing-wage cost for Penn-Trafford

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Penn-Trafford School Board members are making a plea for state legislators to reform the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act.

Armed with an estimate that the five-decade-old law inflates school construction projects statewide by about 10 percent, school board members voted 7-0 Monday night to notify state officials they support increasing the minimum value of projects that the state law covers. They didn't specify a substitute limit for the $25,000 threshold in place.

It's almost certainly too late for action by state government to affect the upcoming Penn-Trafford High School construction plan, which officials capped at $32 million, but a change could decrease the labor costs on some future projects. As district officials prepare to solicit construction bids in May, they estimate the prevailing-wage law will cost Penn-Trafford an extra $3 million for wages on the project.

School board member Nick Petrucci called the cost of prevailing wages to the district “a huge shock.”

“That's just an awful lot of money,” he said.

The prevailing-wage law, which dates back to 1961, requires governments and school districts to pay wages based on those negotiated by unions in the same county for practically all publicly funded construction projects exceeding $25,000. In the first change to the law in a half-century, legislators last year quadrupled the threshold for road-construction projects to $100,000.

Though he told the school board he agrees that the existing threshold leads to artificially high wages, state Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, said it might be difficult to pass a reform to the law in Harrisburg.

“It's not an easy lift, to be totally honest,” said Dunbar.

School officials say the $3 million in additional wages could have helped address other construction needs if it weren't slated for labor. In the district's proposed bid package, officials are seeking prices for possible add-ons, including an auxiliary gym, fitness center and maintenance facility.

The estimated price for that package of add-ons: $3.5 million.

“Every dollar saved on prevailing wage is a dollar that can go towards our classrooms,” school board President Toni Ising said.

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