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Controversial school study gets OK

Published July 23. 2014 04:00PM

Lehighton Area School District has decided to forge ahead with its updated districtwide feasibility study and will submit designs for its proposed elementary center.

On a slim 5-4 vote Monday, the board approved the updated districtwide feasibility study, dated July 21, prepared by EI Associates.

Directors Larry Stern, Wayne Wentz, Stephen Holland, Andrew Yenser and board President Gloria Bowman were in favor. Directors Rocky Ahner, William Hill Jr., Hal Resh and Lori Nothstein were opposed.

"I just feel uneasy voting on something I did not see," Nothstein said. "I did not receive anything on the feasibility study."

The study has been ongoing but a 40-page option has just been added.

Hill concurred with Nothstein, and asked how the board could vote on something they might not have read.

Further, Hill added that he believes the motion, along with several others that followed concerning building issues, should have been discussed at next month's workshop.

"We have to do due diligence," Hill said. "I don't think it's fair to my fellow board members to approve it."

Ahner asked, "How can you make a determination on a feasibility study when we don't even know how much it's going to cost?

"We're the elected officials in this town," he said. "I want to see numbers before (the matter is voted on)."

Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said the feasibility study has been an ongoing process, and that various options have been compared for the past five to six months.

Nothstein said, "I just feel us as board members have a right to see a copy of the feasibility study."

After the meeting, Ahner said, "A feasibility study is where we get our numbers to make a rational decision; voting on a document that you never saw is an irresponsible action that could affect the students, programs, jobs and the taxpayers of Lehighton Area School District."

The district is also moving ahead on the design for alterations and additions to its middle school and high school facilities.

Building projects

On a 5-3 vote with one abstention, the board agreed to authorize the administration and the architect, EI Associates, to prepare and submit the project justification and schematic design to the state Department of Education for the new primary/elementary center (K-5), as well as the middle school (6-8) and high school (9-12).

In favor were Bowman, Stern, Wentz, Holland and Yenser. Opposed were Ahner, Resh and Nothstein. Hill abstained from the vote.

The board, on a 5-4 vote, authorized the administration and architect, EI Associates, to proceed with the design for the alterations to Lehighton Area Middle School, and the alterations to Lehighton Area High School.

Stern, Wentz, Holland, Yenser and Bowman were in favor, with Ahner, Hill, Resh and Nothstein opposed.

The board, on a 7-2 vote, authorized EI Associates to prepare and submit alternative and clean energy program grant applications to the state Department of Community and Economic Development for the alterations and additions to the Lehighton Area High School for $930,000, and alterations to the Lehighton Area Middle School for $1.07 million from the Commonwealth Financing Authority by the Sept. 19 deadline, for a service fee of $8,500.

Ahner and Nothstein voted no.

On a pair of unanimous measures, the board agreed to meet and discuss with EI Associates and Pennsylvania Maryland Trane's Comprehensive Solutions Program to review the feasibility of energy savings for the projects.

Overall plan

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

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 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.

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.

The board also approved the payment to Power Component Systems for $38,205 for asbestos removal for Mahoning Elementary School and $36,876 to Sargent Enterprises for asbestos removal for East Penn Elementary School.

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