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'It was...only a presentation'

Published October 01. 2013 05:00PM

Before a standing room only crowd Monday evening, Lehighton Area School Board tried to ease the concerns of taxpayers about a public presentation that was made on Sept. 9 concerning a proposed district-wide, long-range facilities plan.

"I don't see how our tax base can support this proposed program," said Wallace Putkowski during the public comment part of the meeting. "It's not practical or realistic. Come up with a better plan."

The total estimated cost of this proposed long-range facilities plan is $54,000,000 minus reimbursements from PlanCon over a 20-year period totaling $15,118,386 for a total project cost of $38,881,614.

When a school district undertakes a major construction project and seeks reimbursement from the state, a comprehensive process known as PlanCon is initiated.

PlanCon is an acronym for PLANning and CONstruction Workbook. It is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for reimbursement from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The PlanCon forms are designed to document a local school district's planning process; provide justification for a project to the public; ascertain compliance with state laws and regulations; and establish the level of state participation in the cost of the project.

"It was a presentation and only a presentation by EI Associates and Superintendent Jonathan J. Cleaver," said school board president Rocky Ahner.

With this in mind, the school board voted unanimously in favor of a motion that as needed the whole board will meet for a work session on the second Monday of each month with the Building Project Committee "when all matters dealing with any building project shall be discussed before any motion is placed on the regular school board meeting for action."

The first such work session meeting will take place on Monday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Lehighton Area School District Administration Building, Conference Room A.

School board director Larry Stern emphasized, "These meetings will be advertised and open to the public."

In addition, Ahner appointed an ad hoc committee to meet with James Vogel, architectural consultant with the Pennsylvania Department of Education division of school facilities, bureau of budget and fiscal management.

This committee will consist of Cleaver; Business Administrator J. Michael Malay, Jr.; Joseph Hauser, supervisor of building and grounds; school board directors from the Building and Grounds Committee Wayne Wentz and William Hill; school board vice president Hal Resh; and Ahner.

According to Ahner, "Mr. Vogel at PDE is a neutral source of information the committee can utilize on behalf of the district so that we do not create an imbalance in the PlanCon projects or the educational system of our district."

Ahner will personally schedule the meeting with Vogel and notify the committee members.

The proposed plan that was presented to the school board and to the public on Monday, Sept. 9 is broken down into three phases over a five-year period.

Phase I included renovations and additions to East Penn and Mahoning Elementary Schools; as well as the construction of a new multi-purpose stadium to be built near the district's existing field hockey and track site. It would be located between the Lehighton Area School District Administration Building and the high school.

Phase II included renovations and additions to Franklin Elementary School and Lehighton Area High School.

Phase III included renovations to Lehighton Area Middle School.

Under this proposed long-range facilities plan, grades and buildings would be realigned.

All built in 1954, East Penn, Franklin, and Mahoning Elementary Schools would service students in grades kindergarten through five. Those students in grades kindergarten through five who would have attended Shull-David Elementary School would instead attend the current middle school.

All sixth grade students from throughout the school district would also attend the current middle school for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum, which would keep the team teaching concept and offer electives. Built in 1962-64, the current middle school building originally served as the high school for the district.

Under this plan, the building would become an elementary school for students in grades kindergarten through five; as well as a sixth grade center.

Built in 1992, the current high school would be Lehighton Area Junior/Senior High School, servicing students in grades seven through 12.

Also under this proposal, Shull-David Elementary School, which was built in 1959, would be closed and hopefully sold. Potential buyers discussed during the presentation include Lehigh Carbon Community College, Blue Mountain Health System, and Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit 21.

The new multi-purpose 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 school district has filed six separate PlanCon projects to be eligible for state reimbursement," said Ahner. "As EI Associates explained to the board, the school board could stop any such project at any time with no penalties to the district.

"The board's main focus of the PlanCon projects was and will continue to be on moving fifth grade back to the elementary level and keeping sixth, seventh, and eighth grades at the current middle school location," concluded Ahner. "At no time was closing Shull-David Elementary School in the plans of the board."

For all PowerPoint presentations and feasibility studies concerning LASD facilities, visit the LASD website at Click on "Files and Documents" under "Quick Links." Click on "District." The various presentations can be found under "Building Feasibility Study."

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