A vote to conduct a study geared toward facility and operational improvements at Lehighton Area Middle School has been shelved for now after school directors deadlocked on the issue.

On a 4-4 vote, the school board at its building committee workshop meeting Monday declined to move forward with a letter of agreement for a comprehensive, detailed study with Trane at a cost of $36,000.

Directors in favor were Rocky Ahner, Hal Resh, William Hill Jr. and Lori Nothstein. Opposed were directors Larry Stern, Stephen Holland, Wayne Wentz and board President Gloria Bowman.

Ahner made the motion, which was defeated due to the lack of a majority vote. Director Andrew Yenser was absent.

In March, the board approved signing a letter to proceed with Pennsylvania Maryland Trane's Comprehensive Solutions Program to identify potential facility and operational improvements to reduce related costs at Lehighton Area Middle School. The district is looking at $10.7 million to renovate the middle school.

Before the board's vote, Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver thanked Trane for working with the district.

"The organization, and what they've done for us, has been very well- received," he said. "I think it's important that we focus ourselves on the elementary center."

Cleaver then offered his recommendation to the board.

"For the past 18 months we have been focusing on the elementary buildings and/or center as directed from the board.

"It was said many times that we have always put the focus at the secondary level and we need to start focusing on the needs at the elementary level.

"This included not only the facilities, but also the academic component, which is ultimately what your building or buildings should be designed around. I feel that moving forward with this process is a change in focus, and if the board wishes to move forward with the project at the middle school we will make it work. However, I am concerned with the amount of projects we may have moving at the same time.

"With that being said, I am recommending we continue to keep this type of project as an option. However, the timing is a concern with the other projects we have in process. If and when we get to the middle school project, we can revisit this type of program and also have PFM (Public Financial Management) as part of the discussion for the financial piece."

Hill said, "I can see we're moving full board with an elementary complex.

"To me, you're fixated on this elementary complex," Hill said. "Here's an opportunity to move in a direction that can save us money."

Hill added he was being given the reasons why the board shouldn't move ahead with the middle school project, while he was giving the reasons why it should.

He then suggested that Trane should be given the opportunity to look at the high school infrastructure, as well as the elementary infrastructures.

Bowman shared her thoughts on the matter.

"It's a timing situation, too," Bowman said. "I don't think (Cleaver) was saying this is something we should not entertain."

Ahner then said why he believes the district should utilize Trane for the middle school.

"Efficient boilers and lighting save the taxpayers on fuel and electric, air conditioning creates a comfortable environment for education," Ahner said. "The only loss to the district would be to not pursue hard numbers and to not follow through with the renovation to the middle school."

Ahner added, "The entire district needs work; in the past the elementary schools were neglected, (by) putting Trane on the back burner, are we now neglecting the upper grades?"

Bowman said she believes the board should revisit the matter.

"One of the things we have to take a look at is how much money we're going to have to borrow," she said.

"I think we need to look at the bigger picture and take some time and look at it within the next month or two."