Lehighton Area School Board recently voted to renovate East Penn and Mahoning elementary schools with options including core upgrades and safety and security enhancements. Both schools were constructed in 1954.

A public workshop meeting to address the building projects will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13 at the administration building, Conference Room A.

According to early estimates from the architect depending on the scope of the project the combined cost for the two schools could be between $9 million and $16 million. The difference between the lower and higher ends of the cost spectrum is that the new school board must decide on whether grades and buildings will be realigned.

Currently, students in kindergarten through fourth grade attend the four respective elementary schools; students in grades five through eight attend the middle school; and students in grades nine through 12 attend the high school.

If the school board chooses to keep the same grade alignment, the buildings may simply be renovated with core upgrades to the media center, the multipurpose auditorium/ cafeteria/gymnasium, and the kitchen areas. The cost for this renovation project would be closer to the $9 million estimate.

However, the school board is also looking at proposals that would move grade five and possibly grade six back to the elementary schools. If this would be the case, additional classrooms and parking would be needed at both schools. The cost would then be closer to the estimated $16 million.

It has been over 20 years since any major renovations have taken place in Lehighton Area School District.

The first phase of the East Penn and Mahoning building projects actually began at the end of the 2012-2013 school year when asbestos was removed from approximately 70 percent of the buildings. The remaining asbestos will be removed next June in the multipurpose room, kitchen, and crawl spaces.

"Even after the rest of the asbestos is removed next summer, it could still be a two-year project after that no matter which way we decide to go," said school board director Rocky Ahner.

Both schools were last renovated back in 1991 when a new wing with six classrooms was added to each building.

"At that time, only some of the electrical panels were upgraded," said Joseph Hauser, LASD supervisor of building and grounds. "The others are original from 1954."

"There's no air conditioning in the schools," added Ahner. "Even when it's hot out, the doors and windows have to remain closed for safety and security purposes. How can the students learn in conditions like that?"

According to Hauser, "All the cast iron pipes below the buildings are closing up. They're rusting and corroding shut."

While touring both East Penn and Mahoning elementary schools, school board Vice President Hal Resh pointed out that the basements were essentially built as fallout shelters back when "duck and cover" drills were conducted regularly.

"Think about it. These schools were built during the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration," said Resh. "After World War II, we had to be ready for the Russians. It was during the time of the 'Cold War.'"

"The roof is at the end of its life cycle," said Hauser. "And the buildings essentially have no insulation."

While Mahoning has a hot-air heating system, East Penn is heated by steam boilers with the same piping since the school was built in 1954.

"A lot of heat is wasted because it's difficult to control it," explained Hauser. "Also, some parts are no longer available."

LASD is looking to reduce costs with higher-efficiency buildings.

Back in May, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Financing Authority approved two grants for LASD. These grants will be used to help convert the two elementary schools in order to reduce the school district's energy costs.

The grants come from the CFA's Alternative and Clean Energy Program, which provides financial assistance to develop and construct alternative and clean energy projects across the commonwealth. LASD will receive $750,000 for each project East Penn and Mahoning elementary schools.

The school district is expected to realize significant cost-savings over the long-term by converting older buildings into energy-efficient structures.

The East Penn project will include a new ground-source geothermal HVAC system, installation of energy efficient lighting, and building thermal envelope upgrades. The project is anticipated to reduce energy consumption by 1,131,270 kBTU annually. In addition, new low-flow water fixtures will save the district 30 percent of the building's annual water usage. Once completed, the building will achieve the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Gold certification.

Similarly, the Mahoning project will also include a new geothermal HVAC system, new lighting, and thermal envelope upgrades. These upgrades are expected to lower the school's energy consumption by 837,474 kBTU each year. The school also plans to install new water fixtures to save on the school district's annual water usage by 30 percent each year. This project will also achieve the same LEED Gold certification once completed.

No matter which way the school board decides to go, security and safety enhancements and upgrades will be a priority.

For all PowerPoint presentations and feasibility studies concerning LASD facilities, visit the LASD website at www.Lehighton.org. Click on "Files and Documents" under "Quick Links." Click on "District." The various presentations can be found under "Building Feasibility Study."