Northampton Press

Friday, April 10, 2020

Construction of new Lehigh Elementary approved

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 by Paul Willistein in School

Board votes to build rather than renovate; new school will be ready for 2021-22 year

7:11 p.m. Oct. 23 — that’s when time ran out for the 63-year-old Lehigh Elementary School.

By a unanimous 9-0 vote, the Northampton Area School District Board of Education voted to build a new school on the site of Lehigh Elementary, 800 Blue Mountain Drive, Lehigh Township.

The choice was one of two options for Lehigh Elementary School. Option one was to renovate the existing building. Option two was to build a new school on the same site.

School Director Dr. Michael Baird moved to bring option two to a vote, seconded by Director Roy Maranki.

The cost for a new building is approximately $2 million more than to renovate Lehigh Elementary. The estimated cost of option one, to renovate Lehigh Elementary, is $31.9 million. The projected cost of option two, to build a new Lehigh Elementary School, is $34.2 million.

The new building would open for the 2021-22 school year.

School directors unanimously voted to approve an agreement between D’Huy Engineering Inc. and NASD for resident project engineering services for the design phase of the Lehigh Elementary School project at a cost of $140,000 and for the administration to negotiate a contract for architectural services including, but not limited to, the following:

1. The design and documentation of Lehigh Elementary School and site improvements

2. Preparation of plans and submissions required for the applicable agency approvals

3. Development of alternate bids

4. Oversight of bidding and construction phases

“If there is a tax increase for the 2018-19 school year, it will not be because of the new building project because the money is allocated,” NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kovalchik told a reporter for The Press after the Oct. 23 meeting.

Approximately $400,000 will be set aside in the 2018-19 NASD budget to cover costs of financing the Lehigh Elementary project, according to NASD Business Administrator Terry Leh.

Options to finance the Lehigh Elementary School project are expected to be presented by a representative for Public Financial Management and the NASD financial consultant at a school board meeting in late spring 2018.

NASD has approximately $4.5 million in savings from the Northampton Area Middle School project that must be spent by 2019 on capital improvement projects. The funds could be applied to the Lehigh Elementary project and/or improvements to NASD school buildings, including a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at Siegfried Elementary School, estimated to cost $2.5 million, or new roofing at Northampton Area High School, George Wolf Elementary School, the administration building and Siegfried, at an estimated $1 million per roof.

The NASD school board vote to build a new elementary school was preceded by about 30 minutes of questions and discussion by township residents and Kovalchik.

Jean Rundle, a former NASD school board member, said, “I was on the school board for 12 years. I think, with the cost difference, it would be better to build a new school and not disrupt the students.”

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

Rundle said, “We have to remember we have Fed- Ex coming in, and if the Jaindl development is approved for Lehigh Township, that will bring in revenue. It may come to be that it’ll be said you won’t have to increase taxes.”

School board President David Gogel said the new Lehigh Elementary building will be more efficient and will save costs on heating and air conditioning.

Lehigh Elementary School currently accommodates 530 students. The proposed school would accommodate 700 students.

The new building would add a fifth kindergarten classroom; seven additional classrooms, increasing from 13 to 20 classrooms; and a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) lab and classroom.

“We all feel we have the right people on board as to our engineer. We didn’t have any change orders on the middle school project. Change orders cost money,” Gogel said.

The school board and administration commissioned a study of Lehigh Elementary by D’Huy Engineering Inc. 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 will cost $31.9 million, whereas building a new school there would cost $34.2 million, including demolition of the old school.

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

Renovations and additions at Lehigh Elementary, which was built in 1954, were completed in 1962, 1986 and 2002.

After the school board’s Oct. 23 vote, the Lehigh Elementary project timeline is:

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

The school board facilities committee, which has been reviewing the Lehigh Elementary School project for about one year, includes school Directors Chuck Longacre, John Becker and James Chuss, school board Vice President Chuck Frantz, NASD Director of Operations Robert J. Yanders and Kovalchik.