Aquatic center sketch

Sketch of the proposed aquatic center by Kimmel Bogrette Architecture + Site Inc.

While Peters Township has been awarded a $2 million state grant toward construction of a new aquatic center, township council still has to vote on whether to accept the money.

The decision must take place within 30 days of the Dec. 6 announcement of the grant through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. Township manager Paul Lauer plans to put the item on the agenda for the Dec. 20 council meeting.

“Council can either take action or table it,” he said during the Dec. 13 meeting.

If delayed, a vote would have to occur at the annual reorganization meeting, scheduled for Jan. 3. Council member Monica Merrell’s preference is for the latter date.

“You know I haven’t been in favor of this,” she said about her consistent votes against pursuing the aquatic center. “I think if a decision has to be made, it should be made by the new council.”

She, James Berquist and David Ball, council chairman, have their terms expiring Dec. 31. For the first time in six years, council will have new membership, with Allison Shanafelt, Matt Rost and Tom Pirosko taking their seats.

Council member Frank Arcuri, another opponent of plans for the aquatic center, gave the opinion that he opposes accepting the grant.

“I don’t see how you can commit yourself, just because somebody’s going to give you $2 million, if you don’t know what the ultimate price is,” he said. “Once this hits the (news)paper, once it gets out, you think those bidders are going to try to get the lowest bid they can give us? Heck, no, because they know we’re going to have to be committed.”

In May, council rejected all bids for the center when the lowest came in at $11.482 million. Following a revision of plans, the current estimate is about $10 million.

A 2019 bond issue provided money for moving forward. Council on Monday approved a .078-mill real estate tax increase, in part to cover the additional debt service, bringing the rate to 1.7 mills.

No matter what council decides about the grant, the decision has far-reaching implications, according to Lauer.

“If you accept this grant, what you’re saying is, we’re moving ahead with the aquatic center,” he said. “If you reject it, or if you accept it and don’t follow through, I think you’ll run into the same problem: You’ll never get money out of the Redevelopment Assistance program, and it may well create other problems for grant applications with the state of Pennsylvania.”

The Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program Application and Business Plan Handbook includes a timetable for awardees.

“Once the grant agreement is fully executed, the recipient will have a maximum of six months to meet the terms and special conditions of the grant agreement and begin construction of the project,” the handbook states.

In a news release issued Dec. 6, state Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Peters Township, addressed the grant.

“In partnership with township management, who have worked tirelessly on the acquisition and design of this long-awaited project, I was happy to play a small role in securing these funds for the community,” she said in the release.

In turn, Lauer acknowledge her efforts, along with those of assistant township manager Ryan Jeroski, in securing what would be the state’s largest-ever grant to Peters.

“Quite frankly, while Ryan put together the application, the fact that you have received these funds has more to do with her efforts than anything we have done here,” Lauer said.

The Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program is administered by the state Office of the Budget for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational and historical improvement projects.

Funds are released after several steps have been completed by the entity receiving a grant, and projects are subject to a legislatively mandated close-out audit upon completion.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!