Six years later, we’re still talking about the new transportation center

The district’s transportation center? Yes, we’re still talking about it.

The need for a new bus transportation center resurfaced again last year because of the continued deterioration of the current facility that is located on Kerr Road. The building was constructed in 1974, and as you can imagine, it isn’t up to current code.

You might recall, the district did attempt to move forward with building a new facility along Boyertown Pike in 2015, adjacent to Owatin Creek Elementary. The call for a new building goes all the way back to 1999, but this was the first major action to try and make it happen.

The Boyertown Pike initiative ultimately failed to gain the zoning approval for a variance that was needed but also brought about legal appeals between the school district and the zoning hearing board, at the taxpayer’s expense.

The same issues at the Kerr Road facility that are spoken about in recent board meetings, are the same issues that were talked about in 2015.

Recent discussions about the need for a new facility narrowed to two options – build a new facility on the land adjacent to Owatin Creek Elementary with an estimated price tag of $3.5 to $4 million, or raze the existing building at Kerr Road and construct a new facility in its current footprint for approximately $1.5 million. With a rebuild at Kerr Road, some of the vehicles would need to be parked at a different location.

For now, the board is pursuing the cheaper rebuild option but nothing is set in stone yet.

Some proponents of taking the more expensive route say the taxpayers will only incur a few additional dollars to their tax bill. That kind of mentality is essentially why the district faces financial challenges today.

The district had also pursued a transportation outsourcing study in 2019; only receiving two bids from six outsourcing companies that indicated interest. Outsourcing was not a very popular option in the community, but ultimately the board also concluded the net cost of operations were higher outsourcing than keeping in-house. Granted, those figures did not take into account the cost of a new facility.

With all that being said, if a new facility must be constructed, I think it’s the better move to at least pursue the $1.5 million rebuild option before we even try going down the path of building near Owatin Creek again. In 2015, the idea of building next to Owatin Creek wasn’t popular and I don’t believe much has changed since then.

There’s two main reasons why I’m not in favor of building along Boyertown Pike. First, the land on the available lot is expensive to develop because of all the rock at the site. When the district began pursuing this option back in 2014, it was going to cost over a million dollars just in land development. Second, the $2-3 million that could be saved by rebuilding at Kerr Road is money that would be better spent addressing any capital projects at the existing school buildings where the students spend the majority of their time.

While the reconstruction on Kerr Road sounds more appealing at a lower price tag of $1.5 million, we’ll need to wait and see if that is the true cost. In 2015, we saw the $3.4 million construction estimate increase to nearly $4 million when costs were further evaluated.

This topic is still alive and anything could change at a moment’s notice, but for now, all signs point to a Kerr Road rebuild.

Jason Mell is running for a 4-year term on the Exeter Township School Board. He is a Planning Commissioner for Exeter Township and the former owner of The Exeter Informant. To read more about Jason, visit jasonmell.com.