Penns Valley

Penns Valley school district soon to vote on Ram Centre

The question of whether to build a controversial community center on Penns Valley Area School District property didn’t seem closer to an answer Wednesday.

But a decision on what to do with the proposed Ram Community Centre could come in just two weeks.

The Penns Valley school board is expected to put an end to months of back-and-forth discussions at its regular meeting Oct. 17, when it will vote on whether to authorize Superintendent Brian Griffith to enter into negotiations with Ram Centre Inc., the non-profit behind the project.

The board discussed how to word the motion during a work session Wednesday. Several members appeared conflicted about how to proceed with the project.

“I wish we could start over from the beginning,” said board member Carl Gaffron. “I think people are polarized. I don’t think the idea of a community center is a bad thing, but I think the way it’s presented now, it certainly is not going to get the kind of support it needs from the community.”

The board originally approved a lease with Ram Centre Inc. in July 2011. The organization was prepared to construction the building and rent space to a branch of the Centre County YMCA, the Centre County Office of Aging, and, RCC officials hoped, Mount Nittany Medical Center physicians group offices in Penns Valley.

District officials said they sought the partnership to avoid passing costs on to taxpayers.

The plans fell apart in late May — amid vocal opposition from community members — when the school board voted to rescind the 30-year lease it offered for use of district land.

Opponents contend the board worked behind closed doors and that certain members of the district had conflicts of interest — including Allan Darr and Chris Houser, school board members who also served on the RCC board. Houser has since resigned his post on the RCC board.

“I think the school board directed people to come up with a private-public partnership that would give us a facility at no cost to the taxpayers,” Gaffon said. “We tried to get something for nothing. I think because the private-public (partnership was in play) there was not the kind of scrutiny the public feels they need.”

Board President Jay Martin acknowledged there was a lack of public feedback on the project. But he defended the board’s intentions.

“A lot of people put a lot of work into this, a lot of effort into these plans,” Martin said. “It might be foolish to just throw it all away. Some of that information can be used going forward.”

Martin said Darr will abstain from the vote on the center. Houser also might not be eligible to vote, contingent upon the findings of the state ethics board. Five of the remaining 7 board members would have to approve the motion for it to pass.

The board also discussed conducting further studies to determine the community’s needs and level of desire for a center, regardless of whether the motion passes.