The new school year is right around the corner and the Lehighton Area School District is almost ready for the new year.

Since the end of the 2012-2013 school year in June, LASD has been working on long-term projects at two of its elementary schools East Penn and Mahoning.

The East Penn Elementary School 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 East Penn building will achieve the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Gold certification.

Similarly, the Mahoning Elementary School project will also include a new geothermal HVAC system, new lighting, and thermal envelope upgrades. School officials said these upgrades will 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.

Also at the two schools, asbestos abatement was prioritized.

Officials said that as soon as the school year was over, the staff removed everything from each room, color-coded it all, and stored it in the respective all-purpose room of each school.

"All the areas have to be completely empty in order for this work to take place and the summer is the only time the schools are not occupied," said LASD Superintendent Jonathan J. Cleaver.

Once everything was safely stored away, it took 20 days for the asbestos abatement projects. This asbestos-removal phase of the project was completed by Sargent Enterprises, Inc. at East Penn and Power Component Systems, Inc. (PCS) at Mahoning.

According to Cleaver, "Both companies said they have never had a building so ready when they first entered an area for abatement. The maintenance and custodial staff did a great job with preparing the area for the abatement projects."

"Both the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have visited each school," said Joseph Hauser, LASD supervisor of building and grounds. "We received excellent reports from each."

The complete asbestos-removal cost for East Penn is $64,494 and $116,100 for Mahoning. This phase was part of the LASD capital project to reduce costs with higher-efficiency buildings.

The first day of the 2013-2014 school year for students in LASD will be Tuesday, Sept. 3 the day after Labor Day.

According to Hauser, "Everything will be in order for the first day of school. There won't be any carpeting in the hallways, but there will be temporary carpeting in the classrooms."

"Also, we are replacing the chalkboards with white dry erase boards," added Cleaver. "It's better for the classroom projectors no dust."

Back in May, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) 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.

Cleaver thanked state Sen. David Argall, Sen. John Yudichak, and Rep. Doyle Heffley for their support in receiving these grants.

"These grants are the first of their kind for Lehighton Area School District," said Cleaver.

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