Lebanon school district gives more details on construction plans to tackle overcrowding
The Lebanon School District’s substantial cash reserves and the time-limited availability of millions of dollars in federal COVID relief money have set in motion an ambitious five-year plan to alleviate chronic overcrowding in the city’s public schools.
At a public meeting Monday evening in the auditorium of Lebanon High – the third in a series of “town halls” – district officials discussed their plans to build a new middle school adjacent to the high school, to reconfigure the grounds of sports surrounding it and to renovate the existing Lebanon Middle School on North 8th Street.
Read more: Lebanon’s school district plans to construct a $ 40 million building on the high school campus.
District Superintendent Dr Arthur Abrom said the new college will house 7th and 8th grade students, and the old college will be converted to a middle school attended by the city’s 5th and 6th grade students. The city’s five elementary schools will accommodate students from kindergarten to grade 4.
Abrom said the district has been considering ways to reduce overcrowding since 2018.
Other sites for the new school were considered, Abrom said, including the school district property near Northwest Primary School on the city’s north side, and the former property of the Catholic School of Lebanon on Chestnut Street, but the proximity to Lebanon High and the fact that the district previously owned real estate were the deciding factors.
The renovation and construction of an addition to the existing college was ruled out as too costly.
Abrom and district affairs director Curtis Richards told the roughly 100 people in attendance that the planned cost of building the new college would be paid entirely from the $ 23 million cash reserve the district saved, plus $ 15 million in Federal Elementary and High School Emergency Assistance Fund (ESSERS).
ESSERS was created by the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act).
Because the ESSERS money must be spent, and the new building occupied, by September 2024, the district plans to launch tenders next June, award the contract in July or August, and start construction. of the new school by September 2022.
The renovation and reconversion of the old college and the reconfiguration of the high school’s sports fields will be the second and third parts of the plan, from 2023.
Richards said the district would borrow the money for these phases through a long-term bond issue of about $ 30 million, of about $ 10 million per year.
Coupled with the district already repaying about $ 5 million per year of its existing debt, the net cost will be lower.
“What you’re going to see,” said Richards, “is you can put 10 [million dollars of new debt] but you are going to take off five [million dollars of old debt]. “
Increasing enrollment leads to overcrowded schools
Abrom outlined the 30% district-wide enrollment increase between 2003 and 2018, when the district completed a capacity study. The total number of students increased from 4,237 to 5,500 during this period.
“When you hear us say that we are the fastest growing school district, or that we have increased by 1,300 children in 15 years, those are real numbers, bodies on seats. “
And the increases haven’t stopped.
“We have enrolled around 860 children since the start of the school year,” Abrom said. “If you think about it, this is another school.
The problem is most serious at the college, which has 1,200 students, well beyond its capacity. And so it has been for over a decade. Abrom pointed out that the five temporary classroom trailers at the back of the school, which provide 10 additional classrooms, have been in use for 17 years.
And, more students need to hire more teachers to ensure that state-mandated student-teacher ratios are met. This forced the college to have more teachers than it has classrooms, forcing homeless teachers to push carts with their materials from one class to another.
The situation is not much better in the city’s five primary schools. Abrom presented a graph showing that in 2018 two were already overcapacity and the other three were over 96% full.
Neighbors have traffic problems
Several residents of Rex Avenue, a street adjacent to Lebanon High, expressed concern that traffic leaving the campus at its southern end would use their street as a shortcut to get from South 8th Street to Cornwall Road, rather than going a block further to Wilhelm. Street. They also said Rex was used for parking by people attending events at Lebanon High.
Rex Avenue is located in the Township of North Cornwall, just across town.
School district officials said PennDOT will conduct a required traffic survey and that feedback will be sought from residents and the township.
Lebanon’s mayor Sherry Capello added that she was sensitive to neighbors’ concerns and suggested that Rex Avenue be permanently closed at its eastern end, at the intersection of South 8th Street, to prevent traffic from traffic. transit.
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