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N. Lehigh agrees to spend COVID-19 funds on mitigation efforts

Northern Lehigh School District has approved several measures as part of its COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

On a unanimous measure, the school board on Monday approved the purchase of bipolar ionization technology up to $249,500 to be funded from the district’s CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

Before the vote, the board heard from the McClure Company on HVAC and Plumbing.

Superintendent Matthew J. Link said the district has partnered with the firm for its guaranteed energy savings work done over the past few years.

“We had requested that they conduct a COVID study for all of our buildings in the district, and come back with recommendation of how to best mitigate the spread of the virus through HVAC alterations or upgrades and plumbing alterations or upgrades,” Link said.

The McClure Company did a walk-through of the district’s buildings with Greg Derr, director of support services and transportation, in November.

The goal is to make sure the HVAC is sufficient in the buildings; upgrade filters; utilizing technology such as bipolar ionization to clean the air and installing hands-free fixtures; and hands-free water fountains.

Bipolar ionization collects particles, inactivates viruses, kills bacteria, eliminates odor, and allows for future opportunity to reduce energy.

Director Bob Kern noted that this also will be effective against influenza, and other bacteria that can be transmitted through the air.

“So, it’s not just a here and now,” Kern said. “It’s something that will be effective going forward for many other diseases or bacteria.”

No faucets

The board on a 7-2 vote rejected a motion to install 113 touchless faucets at a cost not to exceed $135,600, to be funded through ESSER COVID-relief funds. Directors Robert Keegan Jr. and Robin Distler cast the sole votes in favor of the purchase.

Director Mathias Green said they’d be looking at about 15 weeks out to get them in the first place.

“We’re looking at the end of the semester, so these probably won’t have any virus effect until the students come back in September,” Green said. “I think with some of the vaccines out there, this isn’t going to be a real big problem come September.”

Green added that just because the district has the funds doesn’t mean it has to go toward push-button fountains, as there would likely be other items coming down the road.

“This is Northern Lehigh, the second poorest school district in Lehigh County, and we’re going out and buying touchless (faucets); I don’t think that’s a good way to spend our money,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of other things that our district needs: we can buy technology, we were talking about hot spots the other day, curriculum, stuff for our students that could make teaching better that could be a better way to spend this money. I guess I’m just not comfortable spending it on this.”

Green noted last June they increased taxes by 2%, and doubted many citizens would feel that would be a good way to spend the money.

Director Michelle Heckman agreed. “It’s a lot of money, and while it would be a nice to have upgrade, I don’t think it’s a need to have, and I think it would be a safer idea to save this money for maybe something that is more of a need to have down the line,” Heckman said.

COVID funds must be used for new purchases, and would have to be used by 2023, or if not, the district would lose it.

Water bottle stations

Kern keyed in on the use of technology that the district is so involved in right now that he believes is in a positive direction.

“Right now we’re using technology for learning, it’s not designed that way, it’s a tool to enhance learning, and once we get back to normal, I want to see that continue and even further enhanced,” he said. “I’d rather see our money go in that direction than see it go for a touchless sink where we all know that soap and hot water kills the infection anyway, so if we follow the guidelines going forward, I think we’re already there.”

Keegan then weighed in on the situation.

“The safety of our children and our staff is primary here, and I believe that is what we should do is make sure our students are safe in our buildings, and our staff is safe in our buildings,” he said. “That’s all I have to say.”

Director Michele Martineau said regarding the water bottle stations, she believes it’s best for the students to have water bottles with them, and that the touchless faucets would be a bit of an extravagance.

Finally, the board unanimously agreed to purchase 25 water bottle filling stations at a cost not to exceed $170,000.