A project to beautify a playground in the Palmerton Area School District will soon go out to bid.

Superintendent Carol Boyce announced at the school board's Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting on Tuesday that specifications need to be prepared for the Coal Bowl playground.

Boyce said she met with the president of the S.S. Palmer P.T.O., who said the organization would like to put footers in first before the playground equipment is installed.

"It's better to put that in now so that when the equipment goes in a piece at a time, it does not destroy the fabric underneath the barrier," Boyce said. "That's the best way to do it, health and safety wise."

Boyce said the P.T.O. would like to have a youth basketball court put in first at a separate price in the bid package.

Committee member Barry Scherer said he agreed with that school of thought.

"Anything you do preliminarily now will save you money [in the future]," Scherer said.

However, committee member Carl Bieling said he didn't see things that way.

"That would be an additional cost," Bieling said. "If we're going to be putting money into there, then we can't not at Towamensing [Elementary] and leave them out in the cold."

But, Boyce told Bieling the Coal Bowl playground area had to take precedence over the project at Towamensing.

"The environmental issue is [at the Coal Bowl], and the environmental issue needs to be taken care of first," she said. "They'll pay for the playground equipment themselves."

In November, the school board approved a $20,000 settlement between the district and TCI Pacific Communications, Inc., for remediation work to the Coal Bowl playground.

The payment is for remediation of the playground at Franklin Avenue, where soil samples conducted at the area by the state Environmental Protection Agency were found to have turned up elevated levels of lead and other metallic elements.

In July, the board announced that it would cost the district $11,000 to add new soil to the playground area. That price didn't include labor and trucking.

That announcement came after the board held a special meeting in June, at which time it hired Atty. William Schwab as legal counsel at a rate of $125 an hour at an amount not to exceed $1,000.

Charlie Root, an EPA project manager, informed the board at that time that levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic were found that were higher than acceptable standards.

Root also said at that time that while not an inhalation risk, the area was an ingestion risk due to the presence of the metals. He then recommended the district seek a professional environmental firm to look at the area.

The proposed new playground area is adjacent to the grass area around the existing macadam that Root said the EPA sampled back in 2002.

The board at that time hired Barry Isett & Associates to oversee environmental services for the Coal Bowl at a cost of $3,900.

In April, 2009, the S.S. Palmer Elementary P.T.O. Beautification Committee in April began a project to refurbish the playground after it said the area sustained years of neglect.

But, work at the site came to a halt as officials awaited the results of the tests conducted by the EPA to determine whether the area - which had previously been used by the school's Environmental Education Club - was environmentally sound.

At present, the playground typically accommodates about 100 students for recess at a time, and is used heavily for a summer program hosted by the Palmerton Area Recreation Committee.