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District could save $20 million

Published March 05. 2014 05:01PM

One Lehighton Area School director believes taxpayers in the district could save in excess of $20 million if the board decides to renovate its existing schools rather than build a proposed elementary center.

Director Rocky Ahner recently presented figures to the school board, saying the taxpayer share would be $20,333,878 less if the board were to move ahead with renovations to its existing schools and shelve construction of a new elementary center.

If the board were to go with the "status quo" plan that has been presented to the state Department of Education, the taxpayer share would be $28,374,366, Ahner said. That's compared to the proposed elementary center, which would see a taxpayer share of $48,708,244, Ahner said.

Total submitted for state funding, $39,105,105, plus 20-percent soft cost of $7,403,295, equals a total project cost of $46,508,400. The stadium will cost $5,663,686, for a total debt of $52,172,086.

Total reimbursement would be $23,797,720.

Ahner said this is the scenario he prefers.

"At this time, I'm in favor of the 'status quo' project, unless we would be granted the additional reimbursement through a variance from PDE," he said. "I still have questions because we're still going to be short of money."

"We have four elementary schools that have their own personality, a middle school that teaches teamwork, and a high school that builds character," Ahner said.

He added that it's important for the board to weigh each scenario.

"We have to look at all our options," he said. "If we get too far extended, I'm just afraid that we're going to have new buildings and not be able to support the kids with their educational needs and their extracurricular activities."

The school board voted last week to authorize Superintendent Jonathan J. Cleaver, board President Gloria Bowman, Ahner, and the architectural consultant Mark Barnhardt of EI Associates to contact the Pennsylvania Department of Education to seek fact-finding for a waiver from the approved Planning and Construction Workbook submission to consider the district to build an elementary center.

The school district hopes to receive full reimbursement for the proposed building project.

The district wants to see if it can change the plan from renovation to building an elementary center.

The proposed elementary center is projected to cost $32.5 million.

In addition, the school district is looking at $10.7 million to renovate the middle school and $9.3 million to renovate the high school. This brings the total projected building costs throughout the school district to $52.5 million.

Paperwork was submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education in September 2012, ahead of a moratorium that went into effect Oct. 1 of that year.

Currently, the district maintains four separate elementary schools for students in grades kindergarten through four. Students in grades five through eight attend the middle school and students in grades nine through 12 attend the high school.

Under the elementary center proposal, students in kindergarten through fifth grade would attend the elementary center, grouped respectively in kindergarten through second grade and elementary grades three through five. Students in grades six through eight would attend the middle school. The high school would continue to serve students in grades nine through 12.

Also at that meeting, the board authorized Cleaver and Barnhardt to pursue applying for an Alternative and Clean Energy Program Grant to be used for the proposed elementary center. ACE provides financial assistance in the form of grant and loan funds that are used by eligible applicants for the utilization, development, and construction of alternative and clean energy projects in the commonwealth.

A building committee workshop meeting will be held at 7 p.m. March 10. The next regular meeting of the school board is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 24.

Contacted Tuesday, Cleaver said he encourages residents to attend the sessions, and is confident the board will make a decision that's in the best interests of everyone involved.

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