Lehighton Area School District will move forward with the design bid for its proposed elementary center.

The board voted 5-3 Monday for EI Associates to proceed with the design bid for the new elementary center.

Directors Larry Stern, Wayne Wentz, Stephen Holland, Andrew Yenser and board President Gloria Bowman were in favor. Directors Rocky Ahner, William Hill Jr. and Lori Nothstein were opposed. Director Hal Resh was absent.

Before the vote, Hill asked, "Aren't we putting the cart before the horse?

Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said the motion was solely for the district to begin working with EI Associates.

However, Hill said, "There's a possibility we could be throwing money out on the street again."

Cleaver told Hill the approval was merely to move forward with the planning process.

Hill said, "When I hear bid, you're talking bid on something that's final."

"To me, I think we could end up on the bad end," he said. "I'm a little gun-shy."

Support for project

Under the public comment portion on agenda items, resident Gail Sacelaris, of Mahoning Township, read a statement to the board concerning the school building project.

"I am in favor of the consolidation of the elementary schools so that all the students are in one building so they no longer have to attend different elementary schools regardless of where they live, in order to obtain certain services," Sacelaris said.

"Due to the present age of the elementary buildings, I feel it would be too costly to upgrade and continue maintenance."

Sacelaris added that she would "like to see incorporated in the plan that all learning support classrooms have smart boards for all grade levels, and that teachers are trained accordingly."

"This would make a greater impact on special-needs students making measurable progress by keeping them engaged," she said.

"In the meantime, for the upcoming school year, I respectfully request that a smart board be installed in Miss Corliss' learning support classroom."

Afterward, the board agreed to accept the $2 million Alternate/Clean Energy Program Grant awarded by the Commonwealth of PA Financing Authority for the HPB Lehighton Primary/Elementary Center.

Earlier this month, district officials announced the grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development through the state's Alternate and Clean Energy Program will be used for energy savings at the proposed elementary center.

The new 140,000-square-foot K-2 primary and 3-5 elementary center will replace four aging facilities.

The grant will provide funding for a geothermal HVAC system, energy-efficient lighting, natural daylighting and thermal envelope, and is anticipated to reduce energy consumption.

In addition, new low-flow water fixtures will save the district 30 percent of the annual water usage at the building.

Opposition

In April, amid public opposition, the school board, on a 5-4 vote, agreed to authorize the submission of a request to the Pennsylvania Department of Education to combine the previously submitted paperwork for four elementary project submittals into one elementary project by the administration and the architect, EI Associates, for the project known as the new primary/elementary center.

The proposed site of the elementary center would be at the southwest corner of the property already owned by the district at the high school/administration building campus, behind the varsity softball field.

Construction of a new elementary center would place students in grades K-5 in one building and close each of the district's four existing elementary schools.

The district has been faced with a decision to either renovate its four elementary school buildings, all built in the 1950s, or replace them with a new elementary center.

District officials say costs for either scenario, new construction or renovations, are projected to be about the same at about $32.5 million.

In early April, the board voted 5-4 to realign the district classes by moving the fifth-grade students back to the elementary level.

As a result, students in kindergarten through fifth grade will attend the elementary schools or proposed elementary center. Students in grades six through eight will attend the middle school; and the high school will still serve students in grades nine through 12.

In addition, the district is looking at $10.7 million to renovate the middle school, along with $9.3 million to renovate the high school.

That brings the total projected building costs throughout the school district to $52.5 million.

A proposal for a new $5 million stadium is an additional cost and will go before the Lehighton borough zoning board at 7 p.m. Wednesday.