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Bethlehem School Board discusses Nitschmann construction project

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Bethlehem Area School Board opened discussion regarding the proposed renovation or rebuilding of Nitschmann Middle School located on Union Boulevard at their Facilities Committee Meeting on Monday night.

The design principles that are fueling the proposed changes to Nitschmann Middle School are designing for a middle school teaming concept, use by the whole community, for responsible stewardship, and for equitable use by all communities. The teaming concept focuses on comprehensive academic facilities, creating grade level clusters as well as science and technology hubs within the building. The design principle for the use of the whole community is focusing on controlling traffic flow for safety and making the building more accessible for community use. The new layout for Nitschmann also includes plans for future expansion; however, projections show that the proposed enrollment at Nitschmann will be decreasing slightly over the next 5 years.

Four separate projects were proposed to the Board at its meeting with a complete breakdown of each project including proposed cost. The first project presented to the Board was for just making improvements to the current building.  That will cost an estimated $23 million. A renovation option was also presented to the Board, which will focus on making all of the improvements from the first option as well as renovating and reconfiguring a limited floor plan to accommodate program requirements where feasible. This second option is estimated to cost more than $34.5 million. The third option presented is to renovate as well as build an addition onto the existing building, which will cost an estimated $48.3 million. The fourth and final option presented is to tear down the current building and rebuild the middle school. This option has the least amount of compromises compared to the others proposed but costs the District and its taxpayers the most, at more than $53.7 million.

The estimated tax increase that will be implemented, if the project to build a new school is approved, is approximately $60. However, Superintendent Joseph Roy stated that this number is the maximum amount that taxes will increase, suggesting that there is a possibility that the increase would be less if the Board finds money in the budget to help offset the costs of the project.

"To ask senior citizens to pay $60 more a year for a new building… is just irresponsible right now," commented Board Member Basilio Bonilla, Jr. "We can't just keep taxing our citizens, we are in debt," he continued.

Although Bonilla, Jr. expressed his concerns regarding the tax increase and cost of the project, he mentioned his approval of the proposed project to build a new school.  Bonilla is one of five Board Members that expressed a desire to build a new middle school at the meeting.

"To me, the decision is to build new," stated Board President Michael Faccinetto. "At what point do we waste tax payers money and time by spending money on renovations that in 15 years we will be back here having to renovate again?" he continued.

The Board has decided to put this discussion back on the Facilities Meeting Agenda for next month and will be taking a final vote on this decision at the Regular School Board Meeting in February.

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