The southeast corner of the expanded Western Center, seen during construction last year.

LIMERICK PA – The construction is complete (well, most of it, anyway). The place shines from top to bottom. Students and instructors are ready, and tonight (Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010) from 5-8:30 p.m., they’ll welcome the public for tours and inspection of the newly renovated Western Montgomery Career and Technology Center, 77 Graterford Rd., Limerick PA.

The open house is intended for eighth- and ninth-grade students considering a technical career. But it’s also a grand occasion for dozens of students in 10th through 12th grades at the Spring-Ford Area School District, who already attend the center daily for half-day sessions in specialized career training. Many of them will be on hand, too, to help show off the building.

The center recently finished a multi-million dollar renovation project that includes several large classroom additions, upgraded equipment, a new dining room for culinary studies, a greenhouse for environmental design studies, and state-of the-art spray booths, hydraulic lifts and alignment machines for automotive and vehicle studies.

New programs – graphic design, dental occupations and diesel technology, among them – also have been added.

In addition to Spring-Ford, the center serves students in the Pottsgrove and Upper Perkiomen school districts.

For more information about tonight’s activities, call 610-489-7272.

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – If the Spring-Ford Area School District is having trouble with its architect, a neighbor – the Pottsgrove School District – intends to learn from its mistakes.

Pottsgrove Business Administrator David Nester was authorized Tuesday (April 28, 2009) to begin negotiations with district architects on a contract that someday could result in the renovation and expansion of Ringing Rocks Elementary School.

Front entrance at Ringing Rocks Elementary School.

Front entrance at Ringing Rocks Elementary School.

But as the district and designers talk, Pottsgrove’s Board of School Directors has made it clear it wants specific contractual limits on how much it will pay for architectural work and under what circumstances.

The board directed Nester and administration officials to consider contract language that would either limit the fee earned by Gilbert Architects of Lancaster PA to no more than 6 percent of the project’s total cost, or create potential financial incentives if the firm met specific goals. Among board objectives: maintaining project quality while bringing it in under estimated costs, and completing the project ahead of schedule.

What they want to avoid, board members repeatedly expressed, is a situation like the one in which the Spring-Ford Area School District now finds itself: at odds with its architect over fees because, in the current economy, construction expenses fell significantly below estimates.

“There’s got to be a way to word the contract to offer incentives to be cost-effective,” director and board Treasurer Fred Remelius suggested. “In light of what’s happening in Spring-Ford, that’s an excellent idea,” board President Michael Neiffer agreed.

Haggling over or documenting a proposed agreement between the district and Gilbert does not commit the Board of School Directors to construction, nor does it mean any plans most recently discussed for Ringing, 1401 Kauffman Rd., have been finalized. Both, the board said during its meeting Tuesday in the district administration building, 1301 Kauffman Rd., are still a long way off.

Director Robert Lindgren cautioned that construction quality must be a priority. “The architects need an understanding that we want a building … that’s going to last in the long term, not something we’ve got to fix 10 years later,” he said.

Lindgren also is determined to avoid glitz, glamor and trendiness. “I really want us to move away from state-of-the-art in terms of fads” in Ringing’s proposed construction, he told board colleagues, “and stick with what’s worked over time. I want our kids to get awards. I don’t care if our buildings get awards.”

Once negotiated, the board must approve any contract with Gilbert before it takes effect. Even after approval, Nester noted, the board could choose to decide not to continue with Ringing’s renovations and pay the architects only for work completed to that point. “But there is an expectation that if we enter into an agreement,” Nester said, “there will be a project.”

ROYERSFORD PA – Going green may be great for the environment, but in the current recession even sustainable businesses face their share of troubles. The latest planet-friendly firm confronting an uncertain future is AbitibiBowater, whose bright green-and-yellow newspaper recycling bins can be found outside several Spring-Ford Area School District buildings.

Paper Retriever recycling bins outside Lower Pottsgrove Elementary School last October.

Paper Retriever recycling bins can be seen outside several S-F schools.

The giant, Canadian-based newsprint company is $6 billion in debt, and is struggling with its its lenders to agree on a restructuring plan, The New York Times reported Monday (April 6, 2009). One option being considered: a pre-arranged bankruptcy filing approved by its banks and bondholders.

AbitibiBowater’s problem is one of supply and demand. It pays districts like Spring-Ford for the used newsprint they collect. With recycling all the rage, those bins in school parking lots fill regularly. There’s plenty of supply.

On the other hand, there’s far too little demand. The primary buyers of recycled newsprint are newspaper publishers. They’re doing poorly – witness the financial woes at The (Pottstown PA) Mercury and Philadelphia Inquirer – so AbitibiBowater’s market has collapsed.

It’s unknown how the company’s Paper Retriever recycling program, which involves not only schools but churches and other non-profit groups, would be affected if the company files for bankruptcy protection. There are rays of hope, however, that the program is stable for now. At its website blog Tuesday (April 7, 2009), a Houston TX user claimed its recycling payment “check is always sent on time.”