With a standing room-only crowd of concerned taxpayers in attendance, Lehighton Area School Board held a Building Committee Workshop meeting on Monday evening to address districtwide, long-range facilities plans.

Superintendent Jonathan J. Cleaver began the presentation by reviewing the proposed plan that was presented to the school board and to the public in September.

Under this proposed long-range facilities plan, grades and buildings would be realigned.

All built in 1954 East Penn, Franklin, and Mahoning elementary schools would service students in grades kindergarten through five. Those students in grades kindergarten through five who would have attended Shull-David Elementary School would instead attend the current middle school.

All sixth grade students from throughout the school district would also attend the current middle school for a STEM curriculum which would keep the team teaching concept and offer electives. Built in 1962-64, the current middle school building originally served as the high school for the district.

Under this plan, the building would become an elementary school for students in grades kindergarten through five, as well as a sixth-grade center.

"The school board is adamant that they don't want to lose programs or furlough jobs," Cleaver said. "What we're looking for is direction."

Feasibility study

Following Cleaver's presentation, architectural consultant Mark Barnhardt of EI Associates reviewed the timeline since the architectural firm was hired in 2008 to conduct a land use study, as well as a districtwide feasibility study.

He also reviewed the PlanCon process. When a school district undertakes a major construction project and seeks reimbursement from the state, a comprehensive process known as PlanCon is initiated.

PlanCon is an acronym for PLANning and CONstruction Workbook. It is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for reimbursement from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The PlanCon forms are designed to document a local school district's planning process; provide justification for a project to the public; ascertain compliance with state laws and regulations; and establish the level of state participation in the cost of the project.

"PlanCon must be approved by the school board at each and every step," Barnhardt said.

PlanCon paperwork had previously been initiated when the LASD Building Task Force Committee was formed in December 2010. This committee, with community members and district employees, was charged with evaluating the conditions of the buildings throughout the district and reviewing all options.

The committee proposed a building plan that would have added on to the existing high school building. This would have allowed the high school and middle school students to share some core space while retaining their respective separate educational space.

However, that building plan failed to receive the required approval of the majority of school board directors in November 2011.

Ahead of a moratorium that went into effect Oct. 1, 2012 that froze reimbursements from the commonwealth, Lehighton Area School Board authorized EI Associates to submit updated PlanCon paperwork to the Pennsylvania Department of Education on Sept. 13, 2012. This move made the school district eligible for reimbursements from PlanCon.

"State funding is only available on a comprehensive plan such as this, not on capital improvements," Barnhardt said. "Those would be 100 percent locally-funded."According to Barnhardt, building improvements are needed throughout the school district. He pointed out that it has been over 20 years since any major renovations have taken place. Concerns include aging building systems; inefficient infrastructure; future technology needs; energy conservation; and safety and security issues.

Fund balance

"I'm going to do what I think is right for the students and the taxpayers," said school board director William Hill. "I think we should use our fund balance and borrow money from banks. I don't want to put any

Citing the hard economic times that many in the area continue to face, school board director Thomas Zimmerman agreed with Hill.

"Our fund balance is way, way up there. Let's spend some of that money where we should on our buildings and on our kids," suggested school board Vice President Hal Resh. "Let's do what's right."

"I'd also like to hear more from our school district employees and get their input," concluded Resh. "And let's start and actually a finish a project."

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."

The next regular meeting of Lehighton Area School Board is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18 at LASD Administration Building, Conference Room A.