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Rte. 329 project details presented

A presentation on the proposed Route 329 elementary school and education center, including the administration building and instructional technology facility, for Northampton Area School District drew an estimated 120 people to the Northampton Area High School auditorium June 16.

The nearly 3-1/2-hour meeting drew a range of responses from residents, with most of the estimated 15 who spoke at the podium opposing the $70,363,000 project.

Residents cited the cost of the project, its financing, inflation and economic concerns, the busing of students and tractor-trailer traffic to and from existing and proposed warehouses as concerns.

NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik led the presentation, held 6:30-7:45 p.m. A question-and-answer session followed. The presentation is posted on the district website at nasdschools.org/article/740947.

Residents at the meeting with follow-up questions or those who were unable to attend the meeting can send an email to facilities@nasdschools.org.

Kovalchik outlined the history of the NASD capital plan, updated in 2018, to address the district’s facilities needs.

The Northampton Area Middle School, completed in 2018, was the first step. Lehigh Elementary School, which opened for the 2021-22 school year, was the second step. The proposed Route 329 project is the final step to address the district’s critical needs, according to the presentation.

Remaining facilities needing to be addressed include Moore Elementary School; Borough Elementary’s Franklin building; the Washington building, which houses the IT department; and the district administration building.

NASD hired a consulting firm, FutureThink, which evaluated the district’s enrollment, building capacities and redistricting.

In February 2021, the NASD Board of Education approved preliminary planning for the Route 329 site. In August 2021, discussions began with East Allen Township, where the site is located, with the township granting conditional use approval in October 2021.

In November 2021, the school board approved further development of the site. School directors toured Moore, Franklin, Washington and the administration building in January.

The school board approved contracts with KCBA Architects and D’Huy Engineering to develop construction documents for the Route 329 site. A district leadership team began meeting in March concerning the Route 329 site.

In the presentation, Kovalchik said the capital maintenance plan identifies extensive work required at Franklin, Washington, Moore and the administration building.

“When comparing renovation costs versus capital improvements, all four buildings exceed 100% and three of the buildings have site challenges,” Kovalchik said.

A slide in the 41-page PowerPoint presentation included a chart comparing capital improvements, renovation and replacement costs. The chart can be viewed at the presentation link on the district website.

Kovalchik also presented findings of FutureThink concerning the district’s enrollment. From the 2010-11 to the 2019-20 school year, pre-K through grade 6 enrollment declined by 231 students, grades 6-8 enrollment increased by 104 students and grades 9-12 enrollment declined by two students.

New developments could change this. As of June 1, there are 1,876 new homes approved or in the planning stage in NASD. A sanitary sewer agreement approved by Allen Township and Northampton Borough could allow more housing projects.

According to the presentation, planned or proposed development from 2019-22 include: Bath, 42-unit apartment complex, 109 homes proposed; Northampton, 67 homes, additional 119 homes; Allen Township, 90 town houses, 187 homes, 550 units at Willow Brook Farms; Moore Township, 42 approved lots for homes; Lehigh Township, 263 homes, 300 units at Jaindl property; 284 homes planned, 475-500 units at Jaindl property (number of 55-plus units unknown); and East Allen Township, 85 homes, residential properties for sale on 33 acres along Route 329.

Other factors that could impact district enrollment include Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 and Northampton Cyber Academy enrollment, which is, as of June 1, 119 students; outside cyber and charter school enrollment, which, as of June 1, is 310 students; and home-schooled students, which, as of June 1, total 130 students.

Arif Fazil, president of D’Huy Engineering Inc., reviewed options under consideration and the concept of functional capacity, which is based on the number of students a school can reasonably accommodate to deliver an education program. It is based on the number of available classrooms, at 20 students per each classroom, and kindergarten rooms, at 25 students per classroom. Lehigh Elementary School was presented as an example.

FutureThink also looked at elementary school boundaries in the district. Boundaries were adjusted for the most efficient distribution of students. A map of attendance boundaries and recommended boundaries is included in the presentation on the district website.

Matthew Sawarynski, NASD business administrator, outlined the preliminary budget estimate for the project. The elementary school is to cost $39,087,110. The education center is to cost $13,021,920. Other costs, including site work, consultant fees, permits and inspections, furniture and contingencies, bring the total to $70,363,000.

Kovalchik reviewed the transportation impact and the personnel impact.

Sawarynski outlined the debt service. NASD, as of June 30, has a borrowing capacity of $114.5 million. The Route 329 project would add $2.3 million of debt service. It would include a personnel savings, if Moore and Franklin are closed, of $950,000 annually. Bond refinancing savings would be $270,000 annually.

The millage impact would be 1.92 mills spanning four years. The average taxpayer impact would be $105 spanning four years, or an average of $26.25 annually or $2.19 monthly.

Upcoming for the project, according to Kovalchik, is a traffic impact study underway with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and East Allen Township. Water service is being coordinated with East Allen Township, Allen Township and the Bethlehem Water Authority. Sanitary sewer service is being coordinated with East Allen Township, Allen Township and the Northampton Borough Municipal Authority. Submissions are being prepared for East Allen Township, the Northampton County Conservation District and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

It was noted an estimated $11 million in infrastructure improvements have been made, including the Route 329 and Seemsville Road intersection with a traffic light, utilities to the district property and stormwater management.

The presentation on the district website includes site development maps.

The schedule for the project is as follows: June through December, complete documents in preparation for bidding; December-February 2023, bidding phase; March 2023, school board to vote on bids; April 2023-June 2025, construction phase; and 2025-26 school year, occupy buildings.

The NASD board of education is next scheduled to meet 6:30 p.m. July 18 in the NAHS auditorium, 1619 Laubach Ave., Northampton.

PRESS PHOTOS BY PAUL WILLISTEIN Joseph S. Kovalchik, Northampton Area School District superintendent of schools, leads the presentation on the NASD elementary school options and facility improvements June 16 in the auditorium of Northampton Area High School.
Arif Fazil, president of D'Huy Engineering Inc., reviews the site and building map of the proposed NASD Elementary School and Education Center, Route 329 and Seemsville Road, East Allen Township.