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The end of the pool?

  • ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS The pool at Panther Valley High School presently sits unused.
    ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS The pool at Panther Valley High School presently sits unused.
Published July 18. 2013 05:04PM

It would cost Panther Valley School District up to $16.2 million to build an addition onto the middle school; either $12 million or $16 million, depending on size, for a stand-alone building at either the middle or elementary school; or about $5.7 million to redesign the now-closed high school pool and locker rooms into educational space in anticipation of increased enrollment over the next decade.

School directors expect to choose an option when they next meet at 7 p.m. Aug. 8.

The board will likely choose the pool area option. If it does, the project could move fast because no land development plans would be needed. The board could approve a bond sale later in August, construction could start next April, and students could be in the new classrooms by October 2014 at the earliest or January 2015 at the latest.

More space is needed. The state Department of Education projects enrollment to reach 1,960 by 2020; classroom capacity is currently 1,697. School directors also want to stop using the modular classrooms at the elementary school in Nesquehoning.

Any building project would involve changing where students in each grade are housed. Possibilities include housing kindergarten through third grade at the elementary school, creating an intermediate area and a junior-senior high school.

School Director Bill Hunsicker, along with most other board members, favors the building project.

"It puts the kids back in a classroom instead of a trailer," he said.

On Wednesday, Barry L. Brobst, George L. Moore, and Curtis D. Santee of The Architectural Studio, Allentown, presented plans, projected costs and timelines to a joint meeting of the Building and Grounds and Budget and Finance committees. All board members, save Koreen Nalesnik, attended the meeting.

The architects offered four options: A 32,000 square foot stand-alone building at either the middle or elementary school to house 350 students at a cost of $12 million; a 45,000 square foot stand-alone building at either site to house 500 students for $16 million; a 37,000 to 46,000 square foot addition to the middle school that would include a cafeteria/multi-purpose room, kitchen, art, music, technology education and 18 classrooms, Special Education and administrative spaces at a cost ranging from $13.5 million to $16.2 million; or removing the pool and locker rooms, renovating the space and filling it with classrooms at a cost of about $5.5 million to $5.8 million.

School Director Roy Angst said he wants the district to examine renovating the former Lansford High School. The district in 2008 sold the massive school, built in 1916 and last used as a middle school, to Adam Webber for $150. Webber has been unable to pay the property tax on the building, and plans to demolish it.

Members of the two committees appeared to favor the pool area plan. The projected costs break down to $1,254,400 to renovate 6,400 square feet of locker room space, and $3,217,095 to renovate 13,131 square feet of pool area, which is just off the cafeteria in the high school. The two-story plan would add 11 classrooms, plus rooms for Special Education, storage and administration.

The construction costs would come to $4,471,495. Adding 20 percent for engineering and other "soft" costs brings the total to $5,365,794. The architects added another 5 percent for possible cost increases for a total ranging from $5.6 million to $5.8 million.

Financial consultant Jamie Doyle, director of The PFM Group, Harrisburg, gave the board an overview of its current debt about $25 million and how much more it could incur. It would cost the district about $244,000 a year to pay for the project. That would involve a single 1.69 mill tax increase, which she advised the board do in two increments.

She said current interest rates are low, and the district's current debt load is about $25 million, well below its borrowing capacity.

Hunsicker said the district had spent about $75,000 a year to maintain the pool, and maintenance supervisor George Krajnak Jr. said the modular classrooms at the elementary school consume about $25,000 worth of electricity each year.

The board closed the pool in January, saying it had become too expensive to operate in light of budget cuts. The 3,375-square-foot pool will be drained of its 163,167 gallons of water.

Built in 1972 as a jewel in the crown of the brand-new Panther Valley High School, the pool was Carbon County's first and only indoor pool. It's had a stormy history. In 1982, it was closed after developing a leak. The pool was then used as a giant storage bin, housing boxes, cans and supplies.

But in 1999, the school board, after months of wrangling, finally agreed to seek grants to pay for a $180,000 project to get the pool up and running again. In early 2000, the board hired Progressive Pool Management Inc. of Wilmington, Delaware for $122,500 to revamp the pool, and it was reopened later that year. Both students and the community used the pool for exercise and recreational and competitive swimming.

But by 2008, the cost of operating the pool again came into question.

The district's swim team, the Panthers, won the District 11 team championship in 2008. They captured the Schuylkill League championship in 2009.

Panther Valley was a Schuylkill League and District 11 swimming power for most of the past decade before the program ended in 2011, when the school board again decided to close the pool because it was too expensive to operate.

The program's most famous graduate is Allysa Vavra. She was a five-time Pennsylvania state champion and a 17-time District 11 champion who went on to an outstanding career at Indiana University and was a member of the USA team for several international events, including the 2011 Pan American Games.

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