A growing number of interested Lehighton Area School District community members, teachers, administrators, and school board members met last evening at the middle school to discuss options for the future of the building.

This was the third in a series of discussions by the LASD Building Task Force Committee. Superintendent James Kraky opened the meeting by welcoming those in attendance. After thanking everyone for their interest and participation in this very important process, he reviewed the itinerary for evening.

Joseph Hauser, supervisor of Building and Grounds, conducted a tour of certain areas of the middle school. These included the boiler room, cafeteria kitchen, gymnasium, and a second-floor classroom. Throughout the tour, he emphasized that many components of the building are original, making it difficult to find replacement parts. Hauser also discussed persistent issues in the auditorium that include heating difficulties, acoustical asbestos, and problems with the house lights. Built in the early 1960s, the building originally served as the high school for the district.

Following the tour of the middle school, architectural consultants Mark Barnhardt and Leah Shiley of EI Associates presented their proposed four options for the future of LASD buildings.

Option one is to design and construct a new middle school building. Following construction, the current facility would be converted to an elementary school. Alterations would be made to the current elementary schools.

Option two is to design and build a new middle school. Following construction, the current building would be converted to an elementary school. An additional new elementary school would be built, while the four current elementary school buildings would be closed.

Option three is to design and build a new middle school. Alterations and additions would be made to the existing elementary schools. The current middle school would be used during the elementary school construction phase. It would then be closed upon completion of the elementary schools.

Option four would be to make proper alterations and additions to the current middle school. Alterations and additions would also be made to the existing elementary schools.

The final phase of all four options is to maintain the high school building with required upgrades. The current high school was built in the mid 1990s.

A fifth option was presented by retired LASD administrator Gordon Ripkey. He began his presentation by stating, "I am opposed to a new middle school on the high school complex."

Using blueprints from scrapped proposed building projects from 1977, 1983, and 1992, Ripkey explained, "Not all of the land at the high school complex is 'usable land.'" He contends that a new middle school will not fit on the high school complex.

Instead, Ripkey proposes that the gymnasium and auditorium areas of the current middle school should remain. The new middle school structure would be built in the area of the south parking lot – so as not to interfere with classes at the current middle school during construction. Upon completion of the new building, the current middle school to the north of the gymnasium and auditorium would be torn down.

Using some of the money that he feels would be saved by not tearing down and rebuilding the gymnasium and auditorium, Ripkey suggests that a new football stadium and field house should be built to replace the current one that was constructed in 1941. He also proposed a leisure activity area for the community.

According to the architects, it is estimated that if the district decides to take no action, the costs for maintenance projects for the middle school over the next five years will be $12,719,000 – of which there will be no state reimbursement. This represents approximately 1.35 additional mills to current taxes.

If the district decides to renovate and expand the middle school, the state would reimburse the district approximately $6,901,232 of the estimated $21,500,000 project over the life of the bond issue. This represents approximately 1.85 additional mills to current taxes.

By building a new middle school, it is estimated that the district would receive approximately $7,250,747 in state reimbursement for the $25,875,000 project over the life of the bond issue. This represents approximately 2.46 additional mills to current taxes.

Before adjourning the meeting, Kraky asked those in attendance to anonymously write down on a provided sheet of paper any questions or concerns as well as which option they feel should be pursued. The results from this informal survey will be discussed at the next meeting of the LASD Building Task Force Committee, which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 22 at 7 p.m. at the middle school.