The third phase of the near-$20 million Slatington Elementary renovation project has been given the green light.

Northern Lehigh School Board unanimously agreed on Monday to continue the agreement with D'Huy Engineers for the construction phase of the renovation project.

The total cost for the construction phase is not to exceed $475,000. Construction is expected to last about 20 months.

In a related matter, the board approved the submission of the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Mandate Waiver Program Application for the school's additions and renovations project.

Prior to its vote, the board heard a lengthy presentation from D'Huy representatives, who said this particular phase of the project represents the greatest opportunity for the district to realize a savings and to prevent cost overruns.

Superintendent Michael Michaels told the board D'Huy came highly recommended from school districts that have worked with the firm.

"I spoke with three of my close friends that work with D'Huy who said they caught problems that saved them $400,000," Michaels said. "He felt he got a better structurally sound building."

Above all else, Michaels said the safety of the students, as well as the estimated 40-year life span of the new structure, are matters that should take priority.

The next in a series of building design meetings will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Other meetings are scheduled at noon Dec. 22; at 5 p.m. Jan. 6; at noon Jan. 20; at 5 p.m. Feb. 3; and at noon Feb. 17.

The meeting dates are listed on the district's Web site, www.nlsd.org. The public is invited to attend.

In October, the board agreed to approve the submission of PlanCon A and General Education Specifications to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for the additions and alterations to the school at a cost of $19,930,000.

That decision came after the board approved the districtwide facility study as presented by KCBA Architects, of Hatfield, Montgomery County.

As per the plan, Slatington Elementary will maintain its grade 3-6 configuration, and also add six classrooms to address space concerns.

Also, the plan will reconfigure open concept classrooms into individual classrooms, and construct an addition to house the third grade.

In addition, the gymnasium will remain in its present location; a movable partition will be added for program flexibility; the existing locker area will be modified to increase gym seating capacity; and secure community access will be provided.

The plan will also allow for the elementary offices to be relocated to the first floor entrance; a new two-story complex to be built at the front of the building to house the district's administration offices; former modular offices to be removed; and direct public access to be provided to district administration offices without requiring access to the school.

The district believes the plan will maintain the desired grade configuration; the location of the elementary offices to the front entrance will be improved; the removal of district administration offices from the school will improve security for both by avoiding the mixing of the public and students; and will combine the district administration offices into one facility to improve operating efficiencies.

Based upon enrollment projections that predict steady enrollment to slightly declining enrollment over the next 10 years, the project isn't required to increase overall district capacity.

The enrollment projections were evaluated through PDE data, as well as Pennsylvania Economy League data.

Also, the consolidation of the district administration offices from temporary modular construction could allow PDE reimbursement in the amount of 25 to 33 percent on a yearly basis over the course of the next 15 years.

Michaels previously said he felt very strongly about leaving the district's current grade configuration intact, the option the board chose over three others.

One option would have left Slatington Elementary with a grade 3-6 configuration, but would have had to construct an addition to house the sixth grade at a cost of $23,660,000.

Another option would have switched Slatington Elementary to a grade 3-5 configuration, and would have moved the sixth grade to the middle school at a cost of $24,975,000.

Yet another option would have switched Slatington Elementary to a grade 3-5 configuration, moved sixth grade to the middle school, and would have constructed an addition for music and special education classes at a cost of $21,850,000.

Last month, business manager Jeremy Melber discussed an option with the board in which the district would borrow $20 million, at which point it could float two $10 million bonds.

However, doing so could lend itself to anywhere from a half-mill to a .06-mill increase over the first three years if the board approves to start construction on the project, Melber said.

If that is the action taken by the board, Melber said the millage increase would go in effect from the 2010-11 school year up through the 2012-13 school year.

The board has yet to take any action on Melber's proposal.

In September, the board announced that four initial design team meetings would be held to determine how Slatington Elementary would look.

That decision came after the board agreed in August to spend $1.1 million to renovate the school.

Also at that time, the board approved KCBA as the architect for the addition and renovation project at a fixed fee of $1,019,651. That fee represents 6.21-percent of the project's estimated construction costs.

In addition, there was an additional $51,655 fee for LEED Certification consulting. That contract was based on the Request for Proposals, and no other costs were to be considered without board approval.

The board also agreed at that time to continue its agreement with D'Huy for the design phase of the project in an amount not to exceed $95,000.

In February, the board agreed to move ahead with the renovation project, as well as to write a Request for Proposals and advertise for bids from an architectural firm.

That decision came after Michaels urged the board to advertise for the RFP's in an attempt to rehabilitate the building, which he has said is in dire need of repair.

Michaels previously voiced concerns with safety and security, as well as the building's heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing.

Constructed in 1971, Slatington Elementary is the only one of four buildings in the district never to have undergone any renovation work.