Exeter votes to take farm by eminent domain: Southern Berks News, Boyertown PA, 3/8/07

Exeter [PA] Township School Board members cited onerous negotiations and a costly time extension when they voted 7-0 last week to take farmland by eminent domain in order to build new elementary schools.

In 2005, the district offered to buy 110 acres of Jordan Baucher's farm, which spans the length of Ritters Road between Route 562 and Oley Turnpike Road, for $3.7 million.

The offer was contingent upon approval to build up to three elementary schools. When the agreement expired, an extension cost the district $100,000.

Board President Ken Levan said board members Ken Hart and Robert Quinter had been at a closed session prior to the vote, but other obligations forced them to be absent from the meeting.

After the plan to build one school received township approval, the Concerned Citizens of Exeter Township successfully challenged the decision. Berks Judge Scott E. Lash ruled that the plans were incomplete.

The district is currently appealing that decision.

"It is my understanding that we submit the eminent domain papers, the Baushers have an opportunity to challenge it, and a third party determines the fair market for the property," Exeter Superintendent Dr. Nicholas Corbo said.

He noted the process will take time, citing the Reading Country Club as an example.
"And that's been going on for over a year now," he said.

Corbo reiterated that the school board believes the Bausher farm is the best location for the three schools needed to accomodate growing elementary student populations.

Corbo said the plan is to open the doors to the first school in 2009.

"This is the best-case scenario when everything goes smoothly," Levan said.
"But if things don't go exactly as planned, it will be 2010," Corbo said.

To keep the planning process moving forward, the board heard a report from Gary Bannon of EI Associates, Harrisburg, the district's architect.

Bannon said he has been touring similar school projects in the area, including the new Twin Valley Elementary School in Elverson.

As a result of increasing fuel costs, Bannon said he expects construction costs to rise at a rate of 8 percent a year, which would mean an additional $120,000 a month or $1.5 million a year for Exeter.

"That's the kind of numbers you have to add to your project," he said
"So the lawsuit is costing the Exeter Township taxpayers about $100,000 per month," board member Dr. David Bender said.

Jill Skaist, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Exeter Township, said the reason for the delay is not her organization's fault.

She laid blame on the district's architect because the courts through out the original application due to its deficiencies.

"Their architect should pay restitution," she said.

Corbo said the district is bringing in a relocatable class room to relieve overcrowding, calling this another financial cost forced by the lawsuit.

"We're in the process of having a doublewide relocatable classroom building delivered to Jacksonwald,"Corbo said. "That's in the budget."

The temporary building should be in place by August in time for the beginning of the 2007-08 school year.

As district growth continues with no new building in place, Corbo said, it is possible there might be a need for more relocatable buildings.

"The Jacksonwald buildings will get us though next year," he said. "Then it's a good possibility next year this time we'll be doing it again."

Southern Berks News, Boyertown PA: http://www.berksmontnews.com