The repair of its leaking high school roof appears to be at the top of Palmerton Area School District's to-do list.
That seemed to be the consensus after a project priority list was reviewed during a workshop session of the school board on Tuesday.
Estimated to cost $583,090, the high school roof scored an 80 out of a possible 90 points after tabulations were calculated based on each board member's list.
In June, Alan Behnke of Tremco Roofing, said the cost to restore the high school roof would be about $583,090, and would include the restoration of the boiler room roof. Or, he said, the district could replace the roof at a cost of about $2 million.
Behnke also noted at that time the weightroom roof is also in dire need of repair, and added that it couldn't be done until the bleacher system is addressed. He said the cost to replace that roof would be about $133,076.
The district could also have done a combined project that would cost $350,000; $200,000 for the bleachers, and $150,000 for the roof, Behnke said at that time.
Next on the board's project priority list was the generator at S.S. Palmer Elementary ($30,000); the junior high school gym floor, tiles and bleachers ($305,000 plus tiles); Parkside Education Center building repairs ($66,550); and high school renovations.
Projects that rounded out the top 10 were the junior high boiler ($6,000); oil tank removal ($6,000); tennis courts ($6,999); S.S. Palmer steps (in process); and high school hot water boiler (cost unknown).
All told, the list of 23 projects on the priority list came in at $1,641,039, according to Superintendent Carol Boyce, who cautioned the figure was a best guess estimate as of this time.
"It's really, really rough (estimate)," Boyce said. "We don't have the financial data, and we have not done the research on what the other stuff would cost us."
Board President Barry Scherer said it appears as though the only way the district can afford the projects is to borrow money.
Director Michael Ballard concurred with Scherer's sentiment.
"Let's just bite the bullet and do it now," Ballard said. "The interest rate is pretty low right now."
Scherer then proposed a scenario in which the district were to borrow $5 million to extend the payments at the same rate.
Director Susan Debski and Ballard said they believed that would be the direction for the district to head in.
"If someone were to hand you $5 million and extend the payments at the same amount, you'd be foolish not to do it," Ballard said.
Boyce said the district has construction bonds with varying maturity rates.
"This October, we have a window of time in which we can refinance existing bonds," Boyce said. "The question is, can we borrow, and if so, how much can we borrow [so that] not to change the current payments in amount, but merely to extend those payments to a date farther out in the future."
In essence, Boyce said such action would merely extend the life term of the bond, and not the payments.
"The additional benefit of doing it that way is addressing so many of the projects and the issues - the critical maintenance kinds of things - that we cannot afford to put into the regular budget because those items would spike the taxes," she said. "Given the index that we must live within, that's not possible."
Boyce said the proposal "is a way to put our facilities into better physical shape, and at the same time, keep the budget more level and not run the risk that a lot of these things could reach crisis proportions, and would cost us more."
The board then asked business manager Lisa Vignone to contact Henry Sallusti, the district's financial adviser, to review the district's financial background so that the district can see how much it can borrow without impacting the amount of loan payments.
Last month, the board reviewed a potential three-year expenditure supposition created by Vignone at the behest of the board.
The supposition presumed level funding on all department line items, as well as a 3 percent increase in salary and 5 percent increase in benefits in each of the next three years.
It also presumed a category known as other, which refers to the other agencies with whom the district does business, such as the Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit, outplacement providers where some of the district's students receive services, and places with whom the district has educational service contracts, whereby the district anticipates a possible 10 percent increase.
Boyce said at that time the district has lost $23,000 in grant funding it was counting on in the 2010-11 school year in the educational areas, and added that it appears the only way it will be able to afford to pay for any major facilities and buildings and grounds projects is through the bonding process.