Work on a $5.6 million turf fields project will continue at Palmyra Area High School despite concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

The Palmyra school board voted unanimously on Thursday to keep the athletic complex project moving forward “in a manner compliant with COVID-19 health and safety requirements.”

Gov. Tom Wolf has issued a statewide shutdown of public schools to help prevent the spread of aggressive virus. However, the order allows the continuation of school construction projects that are “deemed to be critical” to a school district’s operations and finances.

“To stop now, with signed contracts, would cost the taxpayers more than it would to continue the project,” district superintendent Bernie Kepler said at the meeting, which was held entirely through video conferencing.

The meeting, which ran for more than two hours Thursday evening, included the board’s regular business meeting as well as buildings and grounds, finance, and staffing and administration committee meetings. Besides school board members and staff members, the Zoom meeting had several members of the public viewing the proceedings.

This was the second time the board convened publicly by Zoom and the meeting ran fairly smoothly with directors chiming in from their homes. There were only a few hitches, including muted microphones, some unidentified background noise, a few children off screen, and occasional cats in the frame.

Board member Michael Ludwig noted that he opposed the turf project initially but, now that work has begun, “is it more beneficial for us to continue the project if we legally can?”

Kepler said earth was disturbed “pre-COVID,” so continuing the project now will help “to reduce our exposure to additional dollars in the long run.”

Unscheduled starts and stops in labor “come at a cost to the contractor” that would be passed along to the district, he explained. Also, he said, if the fields are not ready for the start of the fall sports season, the district would incur rental fees to use other facilities for athletics.

Board member Krista Barley asked if the district is subject to liability if a contract worker gets sick while on the job.

Kepler said contractors are required to submit to the district their individual COVID-19 safety practices, which are designed to reduce exposure among the workforce.

“One of the blessings for this one is that we’re in the excavation time period,” he noted, which means workers are mostly spread out while manning excavators, dump trucks and other equipment.

Darcy Brenner-Smith, director of business affairs for the district, added that workers have a choice whether or not to work in the current COVID-19 environment.

The $5.6 million project includes the installation of two turf fields at the high school, with completion scheduled by Aug. 8 in time for the fall season.

The first turf field is being installed at the site of the former junior-varsity softball field and will house boys and girls soccer and lacrosse teams, while the second turf field is overlaying the baseball field and will allow both the field hockey and baseball teams to compete there.

Also included in the project are lights, a concession stand with restrooms and storage, and a new JV softball field between the tennis courts and high school.

When the project is completed, Palmyra’s field hockey, boys and girls soccer and boys and girls lacrosse teams will no longer have to compete on turf fields leased at the nearby In The Net Sports Complex. Having its own fields will reduce travel off campus for practices and games – and will eliminate the district’s annual $30,000 rental fee for the fields, according to previous reports.

The district has not proposed a tax increase to pay for the project.

The “impact on general operating budget has been minimized” by the district’s financing plan for the project as well as sponsorships that will help offset some of the costs, Kepler said Thursday.

The annual cost to the general operating budget will be about $50,000, he said.

Kepler, in a previous interview, noted that the board initially borrowed $4 million for the project and had additional funds put aside for the project.

Additional funding will come from sponsorship agreements, which the district has in the works with several local businesses, organizations, and individuals.

During Thursday’s finance committee meeting, board members discussed sponsorships totaling more than $450,000 over the next 10 years.

Foremost among them is a $225,000 pact with Orthopedic Associates of Lancaster for naming rights of the multi-sports complex. That agreement, Kepler said, includes other perks for the district, such as a digital scoreboard for the gymnasium.

Other five- and ten-year sponsorships discussed Thursday were: soccer/lacrosse field naming rights, $100,000, Tanya Belair; scoreboard sign on the baseball/field hockey field, $67,500, Future Stars; scoreboard signs on the baseball/field hockey and lacrosse/soccer fields, $30,000, Travel Champs; Wall of Fame, $25,000, Steve and Heather Derr; Wall of Fame, $10,000, Scott and Amy Lintz; scoreboard sign on the baseball/field hockey field, $10,000, Lebanon Valley Family Medicine; and ticket booth sign on the baseball/field hockey field, $10,000, Bruce Vernet.

“We have others that we are putting together,” Kepler said.

This group of sponsorships will be presented to the Cougar Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the district through fundraising, and will come back to the school board for approval on April 23.

Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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