Lower Macungie Township officials are angry that solar-powered school zone signals were not erected around Willow Lane Elementary School before classes started last week.
Township engineer William Erdman said those signals should be installed and operating by the middle of next week.
“I’ve sat in front of this board many times and given reports,” Erdman told township commissioners Thursday night. “I’m embarrassed that I sat here and said they’ll be in by the time school starts, because I put my reputation on the line by stating that.”
Erdman explained an unidentified manufacturer of the signals kept insisting the township’s order had been shipped. But after being unable to track that shipment for four or five days, he said the manufacturer admitted “it not only hasn’t been shipped, it hasn’t been manufactured.”
“I’m very upset,” said township manager Bruce Fosselman. “Someone lied to us. Someone did not do their job and they have to be penalized for it. We’re talking about kids’ safety.”
“Somebody needs to be held accountable,” agreed Commissioner Ryan Conrad.
Erdman said the manufacturer has confirmed it will ship the signals on Monday, via overnight delivery. A supplier will “bench test” the signals when they arrive on Tuesday and the contractor will “drop whatever he’s doing” to immediately install them.
“If everything falls into place, they’ll be installed and operating by next Wednesday,” said the engineer.
The flashing 15 mph school zone signs will be erected in both directions along Mill Creek Road and Willow Lane just east and west of the school.
The signals are among many safety improvements that the township and East Penn School District officials scrambled to make this summer at and around the elementary school. More children will be walking or riding bicycles to Willow Lane this year, because East Penn has reduced the number of children who are bussed.
On June 6, commissioners voted to pay Charles A. Higgins & Sons of Media $29,561 to install the solar-powered signals before school started.
On Thursday, commissioners directed Solicitor Richard Somach to review its contract to see if anyone faces a penalty for the signals not arriving on time.
Somach said he has not yet seen any contract.
“There should be a penalty involved,” said Fosselman.
“It was due to be installed before school began,” said Conrad. “Someone messed up.”
“The manufacturer,” said Erdman.
“They should to be held accountable,” said Ryan.
“That contract isn’t with the supplier, it’s with the contractor,” said Commissioner James Lancsek.
“The contractor was as hoodwinked as everybody else, as was the supplier,” clarified Erdman. “The manufacturer did not come clean on the situation.”
“We only have a relationship with whomever we contracted with,” said Somach. “If they had a performance obligation, our claim is against them and they would owe us. How they get that money back from the next guy and the next guy is their problem.”
“The contractor had no clue what was going on here, just as we didn’t,” said Erdman.
Erdman said if the contractor can’t install the signals until Wednesday, it might face a one-day penalty of $500. He said the contractor has a 60-day contract that expires Tuesday.
Fosselman said that contract should have expired Aug. 26, the day school started.
Erdman said the contract approved by commissioners had “a floating start date.”
Erdman said another new signal not yet operating will switch on to warn drivers on school grounds when fire trucks are leaving the fire station next to Willow Lane Elementary.
He said that signal has been received by East Penn School District, but not yet installed along the entrance road used by parents driving to and from the school.
In late March, the East Penn school board voted to require children to walk if they live less than three-quarters of a mile from the four-year-old school, which currently has 732 students.
East Penn estimated that change would impact 125 to 140 children and also could add to the number of cars going to the school to drop off and pick up students.
After the township meeting, East Penn Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger reported: "We have about 110 kids walking to Willow Lane."
Ron Miller, whom Fosselman called the captain of the 13 crossing guards hired to protect children at Willow Lane, was introduced to commissioners.
Miller, who was applauded, said there have been no problems since school opened. ”Everything has been very positive, especially from the parents. Most of them are very happy.”
“It’s going very well,” agreed the township manager. “We’re just tickled pink in terms of how well it’s going so far.”
Miller said many parents walk their children to school in the morning and then walk back to the school to walk them home, “so we’re crossing the parents twice as many times as the students.”
But Miller and Fosselman said this week more parents have been letting their children walk to school on their own.
Fosselman indicated his goal is for all parents living within three-quarters of a mile from the school to feel secure about letting their children walk.
He said state police have been very visible around the school to help ensure the safety of children.
The township manager also said more children are riding their bicycles to school –so many that the school needs another bike rack.
Fosselman didn’t have numbers but reported that Anthony Moyer, the school’s principal, told him five times more students are walking to Willow Lane this year compared to last year.
Fosselman also reported 273 cars drove students to the school when it rained last Tuesday, adding the start of school was delayed for six minutes that day.
In answer to a question from Lancsek, Miller said traffic on the school’s rear entrance road did back up onto Mill Creek Road that day.
"We had some issues on the rainy day we had last week," confirmed Seidenberger after the meeting. "But rainy days are always more hectic at all schools."
East Penn officials estimated 140 cars were dropping off and picking up children every day at Willow Lane last school year, with a queue of cars sometimes backing up onto Sauerkraut Lane, the previous parents’ entrance road to the school.
Said Seidenberger after the meeting: "We are pleased with the effort thus far by the new crossing guards and the Willow Lane staff. In addition, we are thankful that parents are cooperating with the new traffic patterns. "
Also during Thursday night’s commissioners meeting, it was announced that the first public workshop on the proposed 2014 township budget will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 at the township building, with additional public workshops on Oct. 9 and, if needed, Oct. 29.
Fosselman said he’s hoping to hear good comments from residents. Conrad said township departments and community organizations will be giving presentations about their budget requests.
The five commissioners will get their first look at the proposed budget developed by staff at their next meeting on Sept. 19.