Long range plans
MICHAEL A. HEERY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Lehighton Area School District unveiled to the school board and to the public its proposed district-wide, long-range facilities plan at a special school board meeting on Monday evening. The plan is broken down into three phases over a five-year period. Some participants in the presentation and ensuing discussion include, l-r, senior managing consultant Zach Williard of PFM (Public Financial Management, Inc.); architectural consultant Mark Barnhardt of EI Associates; school board vice president Hal Resh; and LASD Superintendent Jonathan J. Cleaver.
At a special meeting on Monday evening, Lehighton Area School District unveiled to the school board and to the public its proposed district-wide, long-range facilities plan. The plan is broken down into three phases over a five-year period.
The total estimated cost of the district's proposed long-range facilities plan is $54,000,000. Reimbursements from PlanCon over a 20-year period total $15,118,386 , making a total project cost of $38,881,614.
in first phase
Phase I includes 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 includes renovations and additions to Franklin Elementary School and Lehighton Area High School.
Phase III includes 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 7 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.
under the plan
Last September, Barry Isset & Associates, Inc. presented three stadium options to the school board. 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 multi-purpose turf field; and constructing it as an ADA-accessible site.
At that time, the anticipated budget of this option - which includes demolition; grandstands; NPDES permitting; site work; artificial turf; and new structures - was projected to be between $4,700,000 and $5,430,000.
This 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.
Over the five-year period of 2012 through 2017, projected costs - which include 6 percent "soft costs" for project development - are as follows:
• East Penn Elementary School - $7,500,000 - minus the reimbursement from PlanCon totaling $1,505,274.60 - for a total cost of $5,994,725.40
• Mahoning Elementary School - $7,500,000 - minus the reimbursement of $1,505,274.60 - for a total cost of $5,994,725.40
• Multi-Purpose Stadium - $4,500,000 - not eligible for PlanCon reimbursement
• Franklin Elementary School - $5,500,000 - minus the reimbursement of $1,593,395.80 - for a total cost of $3,906,604.20
• Current Lehighton Area Middle School - $9,500,000 - minus the reimbursement of $3,390,204 - for a total cost of $6,109,796
• Lehighton Area Junior / Senior High School - $19,500,000 - minus the reimbursement of $7,124,237.20 - for a total cost of $12,375,763
outlines cost savings
LASD Superintendent Jonathan J. Cleaver anticipates projected savings of $137,000 a year by closing Shull-David Elementary School and $450,000 a year by not replacing retiring teachers.
He emphasized that no teacher would lose his or her job. As teachers retire, they would simply not be replaced.
In addition, over the next 20 years, the school district is projecting the following savings:
• ACE (Alternative and Clean Energy) Program Grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania - $1,500,000
• Building and Personnel Re-alignment - approximately $600,000 each year for 20 years - $12,000,000
• Act 93/Central Office Re-alignment - approximately $125,000 each year for 20 years - $2,500,000
"This is a proposal and this evening is the first time that it is being presented to the public - as well as to our school board," reminded Cleaver. "If you have different ideas, we are open to them."
"We have six buildings that are in dire need of attention. We can't afford to simply put Band-Aids on them anymore," he concluded.
Following Cleaver's presentation, architectural consultant Mark Barnhardt of EI Associates reviewed the PlanCon process. 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.
PlanCon paperwork had previously been initiated when the LASD Building Task Force Committee was formed in December 2010.
This committee was charged with evaluating the conditions of the buildings throughout the district, reviewing all options, and giving the school board direction on behalf of the community. It was made up of approximately 30 interested community members, teachers, administrators, and school board members.
After meeting over a 10-month period, the committee proposed a building plan that would have added on to the existing high school building. This would have allowed the high school and middle school students to share some core space - while retaining their respective separate educational space.
However, that building plan failed to receive the required approval of the majority of school board directors in November 2011.
Ahead of a moratorium that went into effect October 1, 2012, that froze reimbursements from the Commonwealth, Lehighton Area School Board authorized EI Associates to submit updated PlanCon paperwork to the Pennsylvania Department of Education on Sept. 13, 2012. This move made the school district eligible for reimbursements from PlanCon.
Barnhardt's presentation included a comprehensive timeline for the proposed district-wide, long-range facilities plan which began in September 2012, and will run through July 2017.
He then detailed the schematic designs for East Penn and Mahoning elementary schools. Once the plan is approved, schematic designs would then be prepared for the other schools.
"Projects are staggered throughout the master plan and address all of the needs throughout the school district," said Barnhardt.
He pointed out, "For safety reasons, all renovations include a secure entrance as well as bus drop-offs separate from parent drop-offs."
"State funding is only available on a comprehensive plan such as this - not on repairs here and there," summed up Barnhardt. "The mechanical systems in the buildings are not energy-efficient and are approaching the end of their life cycle."
Senior managing consultant Zach Williard of PFM (Public Financial Management, Inc.) concluded the evening's presentation with an overview of financing options. The firm works with local governments and school districts to attain lowest cost funds.
Similar to what the school district did in 2012, PFM recommends that the school district should competitively bid the financing to ensure the lowest overall cost. By consolidating debt last year, the school district saved $350,000.
Taxes would rise
up to 6 percent
According to Williard, the school district is contemplating potential project scenarios which would require borrowing between $47,500,000 and $62,000,000.
Borrowing $47,500,000, taxpayers would see a 2.24 mill increase. There would be a 2.94 mill increase by borrowing $52,500,000. Borrowing $57,000,000, taxpayers would see a 3.72 mill increase. There would be a 4.56 mill increase by borrowing $62,000,000. These figures are assuming that one mill equals $360,320.
"Of course, we will be subjected to the markets," reminded Williard.
Since the school district would probably not borrow all of the money at one time, the additional mill increase would be phased-in gradually.
LASD currently has an existing debt of $1.4 million that is scheduled to be paid off in 2016.
Following the presentation, the floor was open for a question and answer session. As in the past, the three "hot button" issues boiled down to:
• "The bottom line" - money, in the form of taxes
• Mingling students of varying ages
• Questioning the need to construct a new multi-purpose stadium - rather than renovate and update the current football stadium
Rick Bjorkman asked how much taxes will actually increase.
According to LASD Business Administrator J. Michael Malay, Jr., "The increase to taxpayers would be approximately 6 percent over three years."
Identifying herself as a retired widow, Sandra Whiteman expressed concern about how she will be able to pay her taxes if they increase too much.
"Like a lot of others, I'll be forced to sell my home and move to Florida," she concluded.
input for the board
"The terms 'impact' and 'local effort' mean 'taxes,'" said David Bradley. "Spend our money wisely. Pay off our debt first," he advised the school board.
Cathy Plocinik inquired about the possibility of corporate funding to help offset project costs.
"We would certainly welcome it if all they wanted to do was put their name on something," responded Cleaver.
Gloria Bowman, a retired educator and candidate for Lehighton Area School Board, commended the board for their attention to energy savings. She then asked why all sixth grade students from throughout the school district would attend the current middle school - for one year.
Cleaver answered, "It would serve as the transitional step to the junior / senior high school."
Stacey Duerst is concerned about 12-year-olds mingling with 17- and 18-year-old students.
"Safety is our number one priority every day," said Cleaver.
Lehighton Area Education Association president Matt Fisher inquired why the new multi-purpose stadium is part of Phase I.
"Because of the current status of that facility," responded Cleaver. "Once we start to make any renovations or major repairs, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) kicks in and costs sky rocket."
also add comments
When turned over to the school board directors for comments, William Hill reminded everyone that PlanCon reimbursements are not received all at once - but over a 20-year period.
Pointing to his fellow school board directors, Hill said, "The nine of us were elected by our peers to make sound decisions. That's what I promise to do."
"If we don't go for the project reimbursements, we'll end up paying 100 percent of it ourselves," said school board director Dave Krause. "We've looked at numerous scenarios and have moved forward systematically."
"Although it may not be the popular thing to do, it is the right thing to do," he concluded.
School board director Larry Stern agreed.
"If we don't use the state reimbursements, someone else will. Either way, our state taxes are not going to go down," said Stern. "There's never a good time to do something like this, but there is a right time."
"I'd like to hear more from our school district employees and get their input," suggested school board vice president Hal Resh.
As school board president, Rocky Ahner concluded the discussion.
"Like I've always said, Lehighton Area School District is a very unique district. Out of the 500 districts throughout Pennsylvania, there is no other like ours," said Ahner.
"We have four elementary buildings that have their own personalities, yet can work together as one. Our middle school teaches teamwork and our high school builds character."
"The state basically forced our hand on this issue," he continued. "We were going to wait a few years until after our debt was paid off to do this, but we had to jump on board with PlanCon by Oct. 1 of last year in order to receive reimbursements from the state."
"The elementary schools especially have to be fixed. We have to do something," said Ahner. "Short-changing one renovation project in order to fund another creates the Band-Aid effect - giving the taxpayers a poor return on their tax dollars."
"This is going to be a long process and we are looking for feedback from the public," concluded Ahner. "Right now, our main focus is the renovation projects to East Penn and Mahoning elementary schools."
The next regular meeting of Lehighton Area School Board is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. at LASD Administration Building, Conference Room A. The public is encouraged to attend.
For all PowerPoint presentations and feasibility studies concerning LASD facilities, visit the LASD website at www.Lehighton. org. Click on "Files and Documents" under "Quick Links." Click on "District." The various presentations can be found under "Building Feasibility Study."