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District will wait a year to borrow second phase of renovation project

Published November 10. 2010 05:00PM

Northern Lehigh School District will wait until next year to borrow for the second phase of a $21.5 million renovation project in the works at Slatington Elementary.

Business Manager Jeremy Melber recommended to the school board on Monday that it should wait until 2011 to borrow $10 million bank qualified and use the district's fund balance.

"We're on track with the project," Melber said. "We have $500,000 set aside, but we probably won't need more than $300,000."

The district still has to come up with $10.5 million to afford the project. It has over $9 million in its fund balance; $2 million of which is set aside in long range maintenance.

Last month, Melber presented two options for the board to consider, as next year federal law states the district can only borrow up to $10 million bank qualified, while that limit is $30 million this year. If the district waited to borrow the full $10.5 next year, it would not be bank qualified money, which means the interest rate would be about .75 percent higher, he said.

The first option, Melber previously said, was to borrow $10.5 million this year, in which the district would have had to have the bond qualified by Dec. 31. Had it chosen that option, it would need an additional 1.29 mills to pay off the debt service, he said.

The second option, Melber said, was to bond $10 million and use $500,000 from the district's fund balance. That scenario would come into play if the district would borrow $10 million or less, as it would be .93 mills next year and .07 mills the year after, he said.

In July, the district broke ground on the $21.5 million project.

The new, 110,000-square-foot building will contain 24 classrooms, three computer labs, cafeteria space to seat 225 people, and an expanded gymnasium to seat 675 people. Construction is expected to last about 20 months.

The school will maintain its grade 3-6 configuration, and also add six classrooms to address space concerns. Also, the plan will reconfigure open concept classrooms into individual classrooms, and construct an addition to house the third grade. In addition, the gymnasium will remain in its current location; a movable partition will be added for program flexibility; the existing locker area will be modified to increase gym seating capacity; and secure community access will be provided.

The plan will also allow for the elementary offices to be relocated to the first floor entrance; a new two-story complex to be built at the front of the building to house the district's administration offices; former modular offices to be removed; and direct public access to be provided to district administration offices without requiring access to the school.

The district believes the plan will maintain the desired grade configuration; the location of the elementary offices to the front entrance will be improved; the removal of district administration offices from the school will improve security for both by avoiding the mixing of the public and students; and will combine the district administration offices into one facility to improve operating efficiencies.

Based upon enrollment projections that predict steady enrollment to slightly declining enrollment over the next 10 years, the project isn't required to increase overall district capacity. The enrollment projections were evaluated through PDE data, as well as Pennsylvania Economy League data. Also, the consolidation of the district administration offices from temporary modular construction could allow PDE reimbursement in the amount of 25 to 33 percent on a yearly basis over the course of the next 15 years.

Constructed in 1971, the school is the only one of four buildings in the district never to have undergone any renovation work.

In June, the board, on a 7-0 vote during a special meeting, awarded contracts for the project, pending review and approval of bonds and insurances by the district solicitor.

Also at that time, the board entered into an agreement with H.T. Lyons Company, of Allentown, to perform the HVAC testing, adjusting and balancing services during the additions and renovations to the school. It will perform work on a time and expense basis for a not-to-exceed cost of $36,700, with a contingency amount of $13,500 in the event any duct cleanliness testing or any additional TAB/Commissioning work is requested during the construction phase.

The board also at that time entered into an agreement with Advantage Engineers, of Lansdale, Montgomery County, to perform the construction testing services during the additions and renovations to the school. They will perform work on a time and expense basis for a not-to-exceed cost of $52,235, with a contingency amount of $2,364 in the event any further testing may be needed during the construction phase.

However, Melber said at that time the district must come up with an additional $400,000 to afford the project.

In May, the board approved a bond resolution to authorize the issuance of general obligations debt series of 2010 for $11 million to help afford the project. Also at that time, the board approved the submission of PlanCon F to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for the additions and alterations to Slatington Elementary.

In January, the board agreed to adopt the Act 34 resolution, which calls for a total project cost of $20,432,466. The board approved the resolution after it heard a presentation from financial consultant Les Baer, who said the resolution was part of a parameters resolution the district has had in place since 2004. Baer said that as of Sept. 1, 2015, the board will have the opportunity to refund the issue.

The bond will be taken out of the 2010-11 budget, whereby the district will use .95 mills of its tax base to this year's budget, .7 mills to next year's, and a one-third mill the following year. It is estimated the state will reimburse the district $5,095,000 for the project.

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