The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 7, 2012

High school plans spark disagreement within Lewisburg Area School Board

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

— LEWISBURG — A clash uncharacteristic between school board members marked the tension Thursday night during a hearing on the design of the proposed new Lewisburg Area High School.

Directors Mary Howe and Edward Zych exchanged words as Howe repeatedly questioned John Beddia, project manager with Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, the project’s architects, about several points of the proposed campus on nearly 200 acres of the former Newman Farm in Kelly Township.

The $30 million project would be completed by 2015.

Beddia briefed directors about choices needed for the project to move forward, chief among them the number and design of athletic fields that will be used during the school’s construction.

Howe asked why the athletic fields would be created first.

Superintendent Mark DiRocco said part of the site development plan was to get the fields for soccer and lacrosse available so Lewisburg students wouldn’t travel so much to other facilities.

Other issues such as storm runoff and field drainage also play a role in where a building would be constructed, Beddia said.

Zych then began talking, and when Howe interrupted him, he announced loudly and sternly: “I’m speaking here. Can you stop while I speak?”

The two exchanged more words, subsequently interrupting each other until board President Kathy Swope ended the quarreling.

Howe further questioned Beddia on geothermal system use in Pennsylvania and the number of site visits he’s made to the Newman location.

Swope deemed the questions inappropriate for the architect.

Why? Howe asked.

Director Fred Scheller replied: “This is not a cross-examination.”

Added Swope: “I’ve determined it’s not” appropriate questioning.

And Zych: “That’s why we voted her president.”

Most of the time, the board has very little disagreement, Swope said after the meeting.

“But tonight’s meeting,” she said, “certainly saw a clash of ideas.”

Swope said she is concerned there’s a message that the school district’s major objective is to build athletic fields and that that is not the case.

“Athletics is not a key driver” of the project, Swope said. The facilities plan is “intended to look for a development plan for the entire site to implement over 20 years as funds are available.”

Beddia told the board the meeting was “a planning exercise” and the development effort will take six to eight months, as traffic, zoning, capacity and municipal considerations are completed.

Howe was elected to the school board in 2011 after running unopposed. Among her priorities for the office were to keep academics and instruction a top priority.

Howe had been involved in numerous community groups, including in 2010 those opposed building a new high school.