(EDITOR'S NOTE: In this two-part series, the TIMES NEWS examines the current building issues facing Lehighton Area School District. In today's first installment, we take a look at these concerns, how the district is addressing them, and what options are being presented to resolve the matter.)

According to Lehighton Area School District officials, the district is facing serious building issues. Superintendent James Kraky said, "there is never a good time to do a building project, but there is a right time to do a project."

Built in the early 1960s, the current middle school building originally served as the high school for the district. According to Joseph Hauser, supervisor of Plant Operations, the building is at the end of its life cycle.

He emphasized that many components of the building are original, making it difficult to find replacement parts. Parts are just simply no longer available, said Hauser. He also discussed persistent issues in the auditorium that include heating difficulties, acoustical asbestos, and problems with the house lights as well as safety concerns on the stage.

"There is no insulation in the middle school," he added. "We lose a lot of heat."

In response to these concerns, LASD convened a special committee. Comprised of approximately 30 interested community members, teachers, administrators, and school board members, the Lehighton Area School District Building Task Force Committee has been meeting since February.

The mission of the committee is to evaluate the building issues, review all options, and give the school board direction on behalf of the community. The board's duty is fiscal responsibility to the community.

Architectural consultant Mark Barnhardt of EI Associates originally presented to the committee four options for the future of LASD buildings.

Option one is to design and build a new middle school building. Following construction, the current facility would be converted to an elementary school. Alterations would be made to the current elementary schools.

Option two is to design and build a new middle school. Following construction, the current building would be converted to an elementary school. An additional new elementary school would be built, while the four current elementary school buildings would be closed.

Option three is to design and build a new middle school. Alterations and additions would be made to the existing elementary schools. The current middle school would be used during the elementary school construction phase. It would then be closed upon completion of the elementary schools.

Option four would be to make proper alterations and additions to the current middle school. Alterations and additions would also be made to the existing elementary schools.

Option five was presented by retired LASD administrator Gordon Ripkey. Under this plan, the gymnasium and auditorium areas of the current middle school would remain. The new middle school structure would be built in the area of the south parking lot so as not to interfere with classes at the current middle school during construction.

Upon completion of the new building, the current middle school to the north of the gymnasium and auditorium would be torn down. Using some of the money that may be saved by not tearing down and rebuilding the gymnasium and auditorium, Ripkey suggested that a new football stadium and field house should be built to replace the current one that was constructed in 1941. He also proposed a possible leisure activity area for the community.

The final phase of all five options is to maintain the high school building with required upgrades. It was built in the 1990s.

While reviewing these five options, the committee made numerous recommendations. The administration then met with EI Associates to try to implement the suggestions of the committee. The architects took those suggestions and formulated a new plan to address more issues, working regularly with the administrative team.

EI Associates recently unveiled the new plan to the committee. It includes an addition to the existing high school building. This sixth option would allow the high school and middle school students to share some core space while retaining separate educational space.

A major part of the direction for this plan is the result of the discussions and input of the representatives from the community, said Kraky.

"We spent all summer working with the architects to try to implement these ideas," Kraky said.

There will be four informational community meetings held throughout the district to discuss the new proposed building plan. The first two meetings are scheduled for this week: Tuesday at East Penn Elementary School, and Wednesday at Franklin Elementary School. The other two meetings are planned for Monday, Nov. 7 at Mahoning Elementary School and Thursday, Nov. 17 at Lehighton Area High School.

These meetings will begin at 7 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend one or more of the informational meetings to learn more about the building proposal. A question and answer period will follow the extensive presentation.

Minutes from the committee meetings and the building feasibility study can be found on the "Files and Documents" page under "District" of the LASD website www.Lehighton.org [1].

(In Tuesday's installment, we will examine more closely this new plan, as well as how LASD may finance a proposed building project.)