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Removal of top soil raises concerns at JT school board

Published September 28. 2011 05:01PM

During the public comment portion of the Jim Thorpe Area School Board meeting, resident Peter McGuire raised questions and concerns about a motion that was voted on at the previous school board meeting. The motion involved the removal of top soil from the high school football stadium.

Currently the Jim Thorpe High School football stadium is being renovated. The top soil from the field was originally to be removed and used on the practice field. During the renovation, engineers from EI Associates stated the soil was substandard and could not be used on the practice field.

The motion, from the previous school board meeting, stated, "Approve/Ratify contract with Wernett Excavating to remove substandard topsoil from football field. No cost to District. No fee for topsoil from Wernett Excavating."

To have the top soil removed by the schools contractor they would have charged the district $1,500 to $2,000. There would also be an added charge to have the top soil dumped. With Wernett Excavating there would be no cost to the district.

The motion had been voted on and was passed.

McGuire voiced concerns about the motion. He felt that the motion should not have been discussed in executive session but it should have been discussed at the public meeting before it was voted on.

He also stated that he felt the district should have gone out for bids with other contractors. The top soil has value and the district could have received some money for the top soil.

"Here we have material that we removed that has value and worth," he added.

Solicitor, Gregory Mousseau stated, "Here's how we determined it was essentially valueless to the district. We initially wanted to use this top soil over on the practice field. We were told by our engineers that we couldn't put it over there because it wouldn't drain."

Board President, Michael Huber, stated that due to the top soil not draining properly, "the chief engineer decided there was no value to the soil."

McGuire also questioned if the top soil had been tested to see what the content was and to see of it was hazardous.

Mousseau said, "He (the engineer) has stated to us that he did not feel he needed to do so."

McGuire felt the top soil should be tested to see what the contents are and what it's worth, as well as find out if there is any hazardous material.

Another concern brought up dealt with how originally it was a single board member that had taken the initiative to have the top soil removed by Wernett Excavating.

According to Section 508 of the school code, a single board member cannot act without a majority vote, which needs to be done at a public meeting.

Mousseau stated, action was taken by a single board member and the contractor thought the board member had the authority to do that.

"It was certainly a violation of Section 508," said Mousseau.

The board had looked into the situation to make sure the board member did not make that decision for personal benefit.

Mousseau said that with the investigation into the situation it was concluded that there was no personal benefit for the board member.

McGuire later stated, "I think we made a mistake and I think we can rectify the mistake."

McGuire discussed that he felt the board should have the top soil tested to see what its worth and if it's hazardous. Then take the soil out for bid. The money from that could be used to pay for the new top soil for the football field.

"I'd like you to think about it. There should be something you can do. I would ask that you rescind the motion this evening because I don't find that it has merit," he added.

Board Vice President, Dr. Clement McGinley stated, "I don't disagree with your (McGuire's) intentions. It was a mistake. It was a mistake made by one member of the board with good intentions."

"I don't fault the intention of the individual. I don't fault the intention of the board for trying to rectify it. But, I don't know if we can change anything right now," he added.

After public comment no further action on the subject was taken at the meeting.

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