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Focus shifts to fixing Lehighton middle, high schools

Published July 09. 2014 04:00PM

In what would be a reversal of plans, Lehighton Area School District may move its middle school and high school renovation projects back to the forefront.

The board's finance committee mulled over various building options Tuesday.

Director Gloria Bowman suggested that regardless of which direction the board chooses to take, it needs to have some discussion about borrowing.

Business administrator Brian Feick told the board it needed to discuss two projects in particular: the middle school and high school renovation projects.

"We should probably be looking to do those simultaneously," Feick said. "You really need to decide what you want to do with those."

Director William Hill Jr. said he believes it makes sense to do the mechanical work in the high school and middle school, and suggested the board should bring Pennsylvania Maryland Trane's Comprehensive Solutions Program back into the fold.

Feick said he agreed with Hill that the district should look to do both projects together.

The district is looking at $10.7 million to renovate the middle school, and $9.3 million to renovate the high school.

Trane could be used with the fund balance to minimize the impact to the taxpayer.

"Our fund balance is an insurance policy; as work progresses our risks decrease and so should our fund balance," school board member Rocky Ahner said, "This was money the taxpayer already paid for repair."

The board voted in March to proceed with Pennsylvania Maryland Trane's Comprehensive Solutions Program to identify potential facility and operational improvements to reduce related costs at the middle school.

However in June, the board declined to move forward with a comprehensive, detailed study with Trane at a cost of $36,000, That would have been geared toward facility and operational improvements.

The board is now revisiting the proposal.

Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said the district is in a tough spot right now with all of its buildings.

The board voted last month to proceed with the design bid for a new 140,000-square-foot K-2 primary and 3-5 elementary center to replace four aging facilities.

Cleaver said that until all is said and done, the district's proposed elementary center project could take several years to complete.

The proposed site is at the southwest corner of the property already owned by the district at the high school/administration building campus, behind the varsity softball field.

The board has agreed to accept the $2 million grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development through the state's Alternate and Clean Energy Program, to be used for energy savings at the proposed elementary center.

The grant will provide funding for a geothermal HVAC system, energy-efficient lighting, natural daylighting and thermal envelope, and is anticipated to reduce energy consumption.

In addition, new low-flow water fixtures will save the district 30 percent of the annual water usage at the building.

Construction of a new elementary center would place students in grades K-5 in one building and close each of the district's four existing elementary schools.

The district has been faced with a decision to either renovate its four elementary school buildings, all built in the 1950s, or replace them with a new elementary center.

District officials say costs for either scenario, new construction or renovations, are projected to be about the same at about $32.5 million.

In early April, the board voted to realign the district classes by moving the fifth-grade students back to the elementary level.

As a result, students in kindergarten through fifth grade will attend the elementary schools or proposed elementary center. Students in grades six through eight will attend the middle school; and the high school will still serve students in grades nine through 12.

With the high school and middle school renovations, that brings the total projected building costs throughout the school district to $52.5 million.

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