What was thought to be a one-year extension for Palmerton Area School District to spend the balance of a $1 million grant has now been doubled.

Superintendent Carol Boyce informed members of the school board's Buildings and Grounds Committee on Tuesday that the district now has until June 30, 2012, to spend what's left of the grant.

Boyce said the state Department of Community and Economic Development sent a response letter to the district's request to have the grant extended for two years.

"We've received a two-year extension on the McCall grant," Boyce said.

Boyce said the district still has a balance of between $225,000 to $250,000 left that it could use to spend on projects earmarked under the grant.

One of those projects is to fix the steps at the S.S. Palmer Elementary Building located by Third Street.

Boyce recommended the district contact Barry Isett & Associates to obtain a price quote for them to do the building specifications.

But, committee member Carl Bieling said he wasn't sure whether the district should go that route.

"You're going to spend $5,000 to $10,000 to start," Bieling said. "He's not cheap."

Committee member Barry Scherer said he believes everyone should be able to bid on the same item.

But, committee member Susan Debski said the committee must be on the same page before such a decision is made.

Committee member Michael Ballard said he would prefer to have the steps replaced and done correctly.

Boyce said the district has $10,000 in the McCall grant set aside for the steps, though it isn't likely to cover the entire cost.

The recommendation of the committee appears to be the replacement of the Third Street steps to include brick work on the sides, and surface the steps located by Lafayette Avenue.

Also on Tuesday, the committee discussed several options for the purchase of natural gas.

Business manager Lisa Vignone said the district is presently locked into its current contract until December 2010.

Based on several proposals, Vignone said the district could pay $7.194 per decatherm (heat energy unit) for the S.S. Palmer, junior high school, and high school, as well as $8.772 per decatherm at the Parkside Education Center and field house.

Vignone said the average weighted cost per decatherm is $7.732 through June 2011, $8.174 through Dec. 2011, and $8.294 through June 2012 for S.S. Palmer, the junior high and senior high.

She said the average weighted cost per decatherm is $6.792 through June 2011, $6.802 through Dec. 2011, and $7.306 through June 2012.

The committee appeared to be in favor of the June, 2012 timeline.

Boyce encouraged the committee to strongly consider that option.

"You would be absolutely safe and be reducing your current costs," Boyce said. "This is phenomenal because you have no clue what it could be in two years."

Boyce said she would invest in the contract if it were her own money.

"The difference will be pennies," she said. "You will still be realizing a significant savings."

In essence, Boyce said those rates are lower than what the district currently pays for natural gas, and added that what they have paid is significantly lower than what they paid a year-and-a-half ago.