Saturday, November 15, 2008

Kimberton Elementary School property purchase detailed by Board

KES property purchase detailed by Board

Saturday, November 15, 2008 6:25 AM EST

By G.E. Lawrence

Location of entire statement of PAHS School Board in PDF :

PHOENIXVILLE — The formal statement from the Phoenixville Area Board of School Directors ran to fifteen pages. It took a full forty minutes for Board President Mark Casaday to read it into the record in its entirety.

The subject: the results of the School District's internal investigation of events surrounding the District's purchase of property in East Pikeland Township, property on which the planned Kimberton Elementary School could be built — a project abandoned by the Board, in the face of stiff opposition from District parents on grounds that the site was an environmental hazard, unsafe at any cost.

The Board ordered up the investigation immediately following its decision on the project June 19.

The statement catalogued a lengthy series of "actions and inactions" of senior District administrators, principally retired Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Noyes and former Business Manager Michelle Diekow in connection with consideration of the site and in connection with the property's purchase. It faulted each for their failure to inform the Board, on occasion after occasion and event after event.

But the statement charged others with failures, as well, from the company responsible for the property's environmental contamination, Ciba-Geigy; the neighboring C. Raymond Davis & Sons, Inc., a company with links to the property, "for dumping" on the site; Synergy, Inc., an environmental consulting firm "hired to investigate and characterize the contamination on the property," for "deficiencies in its role."

The statement also raised questions regarding the roles played by former Board President and Buildings and Grounds chair Robb Frees and others, including former Board legal counsel Stevens & Lee.

At Noyes's appointment in 2001, the statement read, "the Board allowed him the authority to handle [day-to-day administrative] tasks with the understanding and requirement that he would keep the Board informed at all times." Diekow, it said, in the role of Business Manager reporting directly to Noyes, "was principally involved in handling the business aspects of the land acquisition. Dr. Noyes delegated this responsibility to her."

Among the statement's findings:

Noyes and Frees carried on the initial discussions on the property's availability with the property's sellers. "[T]he property was not on the market," the statement read. "Mr. Frees had a pre-existing business relationship with [a representative of the seller] at this time, which was not disclosed to the other Board members. It is unclear from the investigation why this property was selected or why Mr. Frees reached out to [the seller]."

In October, 2003, Diekow asked an appraisal firm for an "opinion of value" of the property. She "stated that she did not want a 'full appraisal.'" The result valued the property at $1.657 million. But "no evidence is given… for any discount in the purchase price… for the investigation and remediation" of environmental problems.

The appraiser said, however, that "he had been shown a copy of an environmental evaluation" on the property. That report, said the Board's statement, "discussed the various environmental challenges faced by the property, including the presence of a dump, groundwater contamination, and the nearby [Ciba-Geigy] Superfund site.

"No one apprised the Board of the existence or content" of the report, Casaday read. "This report was kept in [Diekow's] file until her departure from the District. Neither she nor Dr. Noyes ever shared or even discussed this report with any member of the Board."

After offer/counter-offer, the Board agreed in April 2004 to the purchase price of $1.85 million. Then-Board counsel Stevens and Lee drew up an agreement of sale, an agreement that included a 60-day investigation period for environmental evaluation.

"The agreement permitted the District to make a demand upon the seller to remediate the property," read the statement. "If such a demand was made, the seller had the option to either remediate the property or to terminate the deal and return the deposit…. There is no evidence that Ms. Diekow identified this provision to Dr. Noyes or any member of the Board."

When Synergy, Inc., identified a link between the property and the Superfund site, Board counsel informed Diekow, who in turn notified Noyes. "None of the information communicated by counsel is ever passed on to anyone on the Board," and Synergy's report "is not provided at any Board meeting."

Diekow obtained three 60-day extensions on settlement, claiming "a need… for more environmental investigation, but no environmental investigation occurred during these time periods," apparently to be able to complete a set of documents prior to closing that would assure State reimbursement for the property's purchase. "The District had a right to one extension only under the Agreement of Sale. The last two… were obtained by Ms. Diekow and neither extension was discussed with the Board."

In a Nov. 29, 2004, email to Noyes and Miller, Diekow reports a conversation with Board counsel, indicating that "the District needs to make a decision regarding if environmental issues are of enough concern to cause the District to terminate the agreement. She also notes that "There is debris on the parcel, and the District needs to make a determination regarding if these items need to be removed by [the seller] prior to the sale."

On Dec. 15, 2004, Diekow told Board counsel "that… Dr. Noyes was willing to accept the environmental risk… and that she did not want to do anything further in terms of requesting the seller to remediate any aspect of the property and did not want to consider canceling the agreement."

The District's investigation was ordered by Casaday and the Board immediately following the decision to abandon the project; Board counsel Ron Williams (Fox and Rothschild) and staff colleagues combed files, searched email, and interviewed participants — including Noyes, at length and under oath.

"My direction was for a thorough investigation, from top to bottom," Casaday said Friday, "so the public knows fully, and the Board knows fully, what occurred." He said that he required Fox attorneys to have "no contact with Board members" to ensure the independence of the inquiry.

The statement concluded with actions the Board has thus far taken, and intends to take.

"As for Dr. Noyes, the District has filed a claim against him in arbitration for the errors and omissions he committed in connection with the purchase of the property.

"As for Ms. Diekow, she has been dismissed from her employment with the District as a result of her acts in connection with the purchase of the property and other acts. The Board is continuing to evaluate… any additional action…."

The District, the statement said, is in discussion with C. Raymond Davis, Ciba and Synergy. "If these efforts prove unsuccessful, the Board will likely authorize counsel to proceed with claims against them."


Karen said...

My initial reaction to the disclosure of the flawed process in purchasing the property for a Kimberton Elementary School is, thank God none of our children, teachers, staff, or public were placed in harm's way had this project actually seen completion.

Thankfully, the School Board did spare our community the almost unimaginable impact of future potential medical problems all but guaranteed by building a school on a property with environmental hazards.

I sincerely hope that the School Board members handle the next Superintendent as the EMPLOYEE that he/she is at PAHS, and not allow another taxpayer employee to become the tail which wags the dog. Personally, I WANT the Directors to "micromanage"!

I also want to urge the School Board Directors to take another look at another situation which presents massive problems, the ridiculous plan to expand the library across Second Avenue.

Please stop THIS folly before it is too late to change direction.

Anonymous said...

Oh please stop with the library project. Instead of just shooting ideas down (which is easy and anyone can do and obviously does) why not post a solution proposal to losing the library. I have the feeling that there would be zero interest if the library wasn't your neighbor.

Ed Naratil said...

There ARE two solutions:

1. Move to a new location suitable for present needs with room for future expansion.

2. Buy one or two properties to the North of the existing library and expand in that direction.

The present plans are NOT representative of good planning.

Anonymous said...

what is the board of the Library thinking? buy the property to the North of the Library, and call it a day...if its not for sale, use eminent domain.. sadly,they could have bought it long ago,,,why didnt they?

andthetruthshallsetyoufree said...

Oh yeah. Really funny. Those who have the deepest roots in this community seem to be costing us the most. Robb Frees' behavior and the withholding of very important information regarding this school site. Now he wants to push the agenda for his drinking buddy MD (not medical doctor), for the CDC and the irresponsible funding of this organization, again on the tax payers dime. Shame on him. These people are playing monopoly with our real money! It needs to stop and now. I implore council to withdraw from the CDC contract and provide the tax relief that is desperately needed to the residents of the borough! We will not get a federal bailout, it needs to happen locally.

Finally, I had an opportunity to view the meeting with the timeline of events leading up to this travesty. The timeline laid out was very detailed. My surprise was the indignation that was expressed by the members of the PASB about how they were treated for 7 years by Dr. Noyes. Many of these members have been on the board for over 10 and 15 years. These are the people that the voters of the area placed in charge to make sure this event did not happen. Not only did they allow it to happen, they stood by and took this so called abuse by their employee. Now I have had a couple of opportunities to be in management positions and this type of behavior cannot be tolerated. They allowed this to take place. I hope that the electorate will remember this as they come back for re-election. They can place blame all they want, they are/were the elected officials, and the buck stops there!

Anonymous said...

Truth, do you just copy what you write and post it from site to site? Truth? Really?

Karen said...

Anonymous 11/15/08, 3:51 p.m., I, along with many other people HAVE made suggestions regarding the library, and if you take the time to view the treads on the library, you can see each of the ideas.

Much to our chagrin, not one of the suggestions was ever discussed other than the one the library board presented.

As neighbors, residents, and taxpayers of Phoenixville, we have every right to bring up issues which affect the quality of our daily lives, and will continue to do so.

Lastly, I have spent almost my entire life in service of helping others.

This time, I am and will continue to advocate for my neigbors and my family.

Karen said...

Thank you, Ed!

Karen said...

Simple, isn't it, Anonymous 11/16/08, 12:24 p.m.?

I don't know if they didn't want to spend money on land acquisition and demolition or not, but logic does not prevail with the current library plan.

Karen said...

Truth, ignore the troll.

Your comments are welcome.

Karen said...

From the Phoenix, a statement from Robb Frees:

Frees Fires Back on KES

PHOENIXVILLE — Thursday's statement of the Phoenixville Area Board of School Directors on the purchase of East Pikeland land for the Kimberton Elementary School project tied former Board President Robb Frees closely to the events surrounding the property's selection and purchase.

After reviewing the statement late Friday evening, Frees released this statement to The Phoenix:

"I believe that, looking back on the process that brought the Board to acquire Kimberton, three things are important to remember. These should all be understood in the context that nine people were working as volunteers to do the best for Phoenixville. Five of those board members remain members today.

"It was decided by the entire Board that we needed to acquire land for future expansion.

"All nine Board members, of which I was one, identified five properties that were available within the District with the purpose of purchasing land. As the president, and at the direction of the Board, I had three conversations with three different landowners.

"All nine Board members, who were all working very hard as volunteers and without compensation, spent a significant amount of time on this process. With the information we had at the time, and with the advice of respected legal counsel, we voted to buy the land at Kimberton.

"The suggestion that any one person could have affected this decision is incorrect. The majority of the people who serve on the Board now, served on the Board then. Since I have not been on the Board since 2005, their decision to abandon the site may be due to information that I do not possess so I will not conjecture about it. The reasons for abandoning the

property should be addressed to the current Board."

On Sunday, Frees made this addendum to the statement:

"There are factual inaccuracies contained within the Board's presentation. I am in the process of contacting the author to address my concerns.

"I have been a volunteer in Phoenixville for over 25 years. I have spent thousands of hours volunteering for everything from youth lacrosse to the Phoenixville YMCA to the school district. I live in Phoenixville. I graduated from Phoenixville. My business is located here. Why would I do anything that would jeopardize this community?"

andthetruthshallsetyoufree said...

Thank you Karen. If I may say, the headline failed to meet the expectation of what I expected to read in the article. It was more of a popcorn fart as opposed to a 'Fire Back." I expected Frees to say, 'No I told you about the toxicity of the site.' His failing to do that and kind of lay back with the explanation that he puth forth, makes at least me believe that there is more there than what is being reported. This DOES need to be investigated by an outside, independent third party. The PASB solicitor telling me that, 'it does not arise to the level of being illegal. The last time I HEARD that was the responsibility of the DA and or a judge..I prefer the latter. As always, I look for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

What business does Frees own in Phoenixville? I want to make sure I don't patronize that business until I hear more about his role in this mess.