Northampton Press

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Renovate or build new Lehigh school?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Local News

NASD board will decide fate of elementary building Oct. 23

At 63 years, Lehigh Elementary School may be ready for retirement.

For Northampton Area School District School Board President David Gogel, it’s a bittersweet prospect.

“That was my first year there in school — 1956,” said Gogel, who attended Lehigh Elementary 1956-62. “If a new school is going to be more efficient, it’s the way to go.”

Based on a study of repairs and improvements needed at Lehigh, it would almost cost as much to renovate the building, built in 1954, as to build a new school at the same location, 800 Blue Mountain Drive, Walnutport.

The school board and administration commissioned a study of Lehigh by D’Huy Engineering Inc., district consulting engineering firm, as part of the NASD capital maintenance plan.

In his 30-minute presentation to the administration and school board at the Oct. 9 meeting, Chris Haller, senior project manager, D’Huy Engineering Inc., said renovating Lehigh could cost $31.9 million, whereas building a new school there would cost $34.2 million, including demolition of the old school.

“Lehigh has multiple issues, including access and egress,” Haller said.

Board members took the report under advisement. They will weigh the options, with a vote expected on the Lehigh project at its next meeting, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at the NASD Administration Building, 2014 Laubach Ave., Northampton.

School directors are expected to vote on three agenda items pertaining to Lehigh at the meeting:

• Renovate Lehigh or construct a new building

• Hire an architect for the project

• Approve the second phase of the project by D’Huy Engineering

“We’re on a fast phase here,” NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kovalchik said.

The Lehigh Elementary project time line is:

Oct. 23: school board vote on project

Nov. 6: hire project architect

December 2017-October 2018: design phase

November 2018-January 2019: bidding

February 2019-July 2021: construction

August 2021: completion for 2021-22 school year opening

“For the first year, 2018-19, we have the money already,” NASD Business Administrator Terry Leh said.

NASD would apply for possible reimbursement for a portion of the project through the Pennsylvania Department of Education PlanCon program.

Leh is expected to outline a financing plan for the Lehigh project at the Oct. 23 meeting during a presentation prior to an expected school board vote on the project.

Approximately $4.5 to $5 million left over from the Northampton Area Middle School project could be applied to the elementary school project or other needed district building improvements, including a new HVAC system at Siegfried Elementary School, expected to cost $3.5 million; a new roof and sidewalks at Northampton Area High School; and a new roof at George Wolf Elementary School.

“It’s not that we’re trying to spend money. There are things that must be done for your facilities,” Kovalchik said.

The school board facilities committee has been discussing the fate of Lehigh for several months, according to Kovalchik. The committee includes school Directors Chuck Longacre, John Becker, James Chuss, school board Vice President Chuck Frantz, NASD Director of Operations Robert J. Yanders and Kovalchik.

Renovations and additions at Lehigh were completed in 1962, 1986 and 2002.

Lehigh’s problems include roofing, heating, ventilation, the air-conditioning system (classroom unit ventilation systems are noisy), access by buses and parents’ cars, security, undersized classrooms (843 square feet rather than recommended 1,000 square feet); too few classrooms; and Americans with Disabilities Act noncompliance bathrooms, ramps and other areas.

“There’s some rooms that were storage rooms that are used as classrooms,” Haller said.

Lehigh Elementary School Principal Lori Kuhns also spoke about the need for more classrooms and other problems with the building. There are four kindergarten classrooms at Lehigh, which is 89,700 square feet and has 520 students.

Renovating the building would add 19,000 square feet, bringing it to 108,700 square feet. A new building, at 97,000 square feet, would accommodate 700 students, add a fifth kindergarten classroom, add seven classrooms — increasing from 13 to 20 classrooms — and add a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) lab and classroom.

The new building would be placed behind the existing Lehigh Elementary School where classes would continue during construction.

“We’ve done some studies with growth in the township,” Kovalchik said.

Concerns in renovating the elementary school include disruption to educational programs, use of portable classrooms and parking for staff during construction.