School reviews plans for $5M stadium
MICHAEL HEERY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Wilmer Everetts is one of several concerned taxpayers who addressed Lehighton Area School Board on Monday evening about proposed building and stadium projects.
Lehighton School District is looking at a possible new multipurpose stadium in addition to proposing building plans.
The project was reviewed for the public Monday night.
The one currently being studied involves developing a new site near Lehighton Area High School. This would include new home and visitor grandstands for a seating capacity of 2,500; a new press box; a new field house structure; a new storage/restroom structure; new fencing to provide a secured site; new stadium lighting; a multipurpose turf field; and construct it as an ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act)-accessible site.
This new multipurpose stadium would replace the current football stadium located at Beaver Run Road and Mahoning Street in Lehighton. The current Lehighton Football Stadium, then known as "the new athletic field," was constructed in 1939-1940.
The anticipated budget of this option which includes demolition; grandstands; NPDES permitting; site work; artificial turf; and new structures is projected to be between $4.9 million and $5.6 million.
Questioning the estimates on the new multipurpose stadium, school board President Rocky Ahner said, "In order for us to make a rational decision, the school board needs hard numbers not 'guesstimates.' I know the taxpayers don't want to hear in two years that we need additional money to finish the project."
"The kids in this community deserve a new multipurpose stadium," school board director Wayne Wentz said. "We can't host anything here."
Ahner said the process to build a new stadium could take two to three years.
"Plus, don't forget that we won't receive any funding from the state for this stadium project," Ahner said.
Regarding the new multipurpose stadium, school board director John Finnegan suggested, "Let's eliminate this piece of the confusion. We could take the money out of our fund balance to build the stadium."
According to business administrator J. Michael Malay Jr. the school district currently has approximately $13 million in its fund balance.
"We haven't done any capital improvements in over 20 years," Finnegan said. "Let's get on with it and invest in our schools so we don't lose our tax base and become like some other communities."
School Board Director Larry Stern agreed. "All of the programs will benefit from a new multipurpose stadium," he said. "Butting heads won't get us anywhere. We have to figure out where we're going and get on with it."
"I'm going to do what I think is right for the students and the taxpayers," said school board director William Hill. "I think we should use our fund balance and borrow money from banks. I don't want to put any more burden on the backs of our taxpayers."
"When I go into a project, I don't ask how much I can make on it. I ask, 'How much could I potentially lose if things go bad?'" said Wallace Putkowski. "Let's look at the hard numbers."
"Open yourselves up to the facts not half-facts and then make decisions," urged Jim Blakeslee. "Let's get moving and let's get it done."
"Let's think about our kids," said Thomas Wertman. "Let's give our kids every opportunity that we can. Build the stadium."
Recalling how Lehighton Area Pool Pals raised the funds to renovate and reopen the Lehighton Swimming Pool at Baer Memorial Park, David Bradley suggested to the school board to let the community fund and build a new multipurpose stadium.
Citing the first-class facilities at Parkland School District, Chuck Pollock said, "I support the new stadium, but it has to be done right. The longer you wait, the more it will cost."
"We're trying to be like other schools," concluded Ahner. "How about we try to be like Lehighton for once?"