(EDITOR'S NOTE: In this last article of a two-part series, the TIMES NEWS examines the current building issues facing Lehighton Area School District. Yesterday, we looked at these concerns, how the district is addressing them, and what options are being presented to resolve the matter. In today's installment, we examine more closely the proposed building plan, as well as how LASD may finance the building project.)

EI Associates recently unveiled a new building plan to the Lehighton Area School District Building Task Force Committee. Comprised of approximately 30 interested community members, teachers, administrators, and school board members, this advisory committee has been meeting since February.

This proposed building plan includes an addition to the existing high school building. It would allow the high school and middle school students to share some core space. Students in grades five through 12 already ride the same bus. When they exit the buses, the high school and middle school students would retain their respective separate educational space.

Under this new plan, educational time would not be disrupted during these projects. High school and middle school students would continue to attend class in their original setting while the new building is under construction. Upon completion, high school students would move into the new section, which would then become the high school. While the old section is renovated, the middle school students would continue to attend the current middle school and would move to the new complex only after all the work has finished. Students would not have to be temporarily based in another building.

Education hours for middle school students would increase under this plan. Currently, the middle school students are dismissed first, 10 minutes earlier than the high school students. The buses then proceed to the high school for pick-up. Under this new building proposal, the students would all be dismissed at the same time. By increasing the middle school day by 10 minutes for the 180 days of the school year, these students will increase their education hours by 1,800 minutes or 30 additional hours.

Middle school students would be able to access advanced programs offered by the high school, for example, gifted programs and accelerated academics. Also, the setup for the existing high school building is more conducive to the middle school team concept than the long corridors of the current middle school.

According to the supervisor of plant operations, Joseph Hauser, one of the advantages of this building proposal is the sharing of certain facilities. The high school and middle school would share an auditorium, library space, media center, and band rooms as well as locker rooms, nurses' office, and art facilities. While the students would eat in two separate cafeterias, there would be one kitchen facility to prepare the food.

This plan also allows for expanded television production, drama, music, and band programs. The auditorium would feature state-of-the-art lighting and sound.

After-school activities could be expanded. With an additional new, larger gymnasium, the building would be able to provide additional opportunities for students and the community. It would be large enough to host tournaments. Also, a new field house could be built along the outer portion of the gym.

This new structure would connect to a 20-year-old building versus a 50-year-old building, as was proposed under one of the other plans, said Superintendent James Kraky.

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 $12,700,000, 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 high school, the state would reimburse the district approximately $16 million of the estimated $35 million project over the life of the bond. This represents approximately 2.72 additional mills to current taxes. These figures are assuming that one mill equals $352,000. Broken down, the annual cost per household for the average assessed home value of $44,250 would be $120, a daily cost of 33 cents.

"Financing any improvement project is never easy. The more important the project, the more likely we will find the necessary resources," said Kraky. He emphasized that financial borrowing is at an all-time low. Also, both labor and supplies costs are at their lowest in years.

The plan is to use as much local workforce as possible through bidding specification parameters for contractors, etc., added Kraky.

According to business manager Michael Malay, Jr., state reimbursement would be much higher under this plan since the district would be servicing the needs of not only the middle school students, but also the high school students.

"This plan doubles the reimbursement from the state from $8 million (if a separate middle school were built) to $16 million," said Malay.

Malay insists that it is important to take advantage of the state reimbursement because "it only comes around once every 20 years."

"Also, we should take advantage of the efficiencies of new facilities," he added.

Hauser agreed.

"With geothermal, the savings will come back to the district," said Hauser.

"Time is somewhat of the essence," Kraky summed up."If we start now, we won't be done until at least February 2014."

There will be four informational community meetings held throughout the district to discuss the new proposed building plan. The first two meetings are scheduled this week – this evening at East Penn Elementary School and Wednesday, Nov. 2 at Franklin Elementary School. The other two meetings are planned for Monday, Nov. 7 at Mahoning Elementary School and Thursday, Nov. 17 at Lehighton Area High School.

These meetings will begin at 7 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend one or more of the informational meetings to learn more about the building proposal. A question and answer period will follow the extensive presentation.

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