Following a lengthy meeting concerning the proposed future of the middle school and elementary school buildings last evening, the Lehighton Area School District Building Task Force Committee decided that it needs more time and information before making a formal recommendation to the school board. This was the fourth in a series of discussions by this committee.

After Superintendent James Kraky opened the meeting,Supervisor of Building and Grounds Joseph Hauser conducted a tour of the middle school auditorium. He emphasized persistent issues in the auditorium that include heating difficulties, acoustical asbestos, and problems with the house lights - as well as safety concerns on the stage. Following the tour, architectural consultant Mark Barnhardt of EI Associates reviewed five options for the future of LASD buildings.

Option one is to design and build 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.

Option five was presented by retired LASD administrator Gordon Ripkey at the March 8 committee meeting. Under this option, the gymnasium and auditorium areas of the current middle school would 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 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 possible leisure activity area for the community.

The final phase of all five options is to maintain the high school building with required upgrades. Itwas built in the1990s.

EI Associates estimates 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 renovating and not tearing down the gymnasium and auditorium in option five, the estimated cost of the project is $24,700,000. This represents approximately 2.31 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. These figures are assuming that one mill equals $345,000.

Following the review of the five options, Barnhardt and Kraky presented the results from the anonymous informal survey that was conducted at the last meeting of the LASD Building Task Force Committee. Option one received 13 percent of the votes, option two 3 percent, option three 33 percent, option four 20 percent, option five 13 percent, and either option three or four 17 percent. Fromthese results, Kraky asked, "Then, is the consensus of this committee to present to the school board a recommendation to build a new middle school?"

The next LASD School Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 28 at 7 p.m. at Carbon Career & Technical Institute in Jim Thorpe.

Those in attendance voiced concern that they feel more time and information are needed before making this recommendation. Lehighton Borough Council Vice President Scott Rehrig said, "There's no timetable here. Let's take our time and do it right."

The committee requested additional meetings to debate possible physical locations of a new middle school - as well as discussions to address the specific needs of the community. After doing so, they would like the input of the architects for feasibility of the committee's recommendations.

Questions and concerns over Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's proposed budget, which cuts education funding, were brought up several times throughout the evening. Concerns over tax increases at this time in this new economy were also argued.

The next meeting of the LASD Building Task Force Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, April 5 at 7 p.m. at the middle school and is open to the public.

Minutes from the comittee meetings and the building feasibility study can be found on the "Files and Documents" page under "District" of the LASD website - www.lehighton.org.