Lehigh Valley

Allentown gives go-ahead for design of new elementary school

Federal grants will help refugees, learning center

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - In an 8-1 vote , the Allentown School Board approved design development documents for a new elementary school at its Thursday meeting.

The school, which will replace Cleveland and McKinley elementary schools and is expected to open in 2020, will be constructed on 1227 W. Gordon St. With the board’s approval, Breslin Ridyard Fadero Architects, which designed the new school, now has the go-ahead to draw up construction phase documents. 

At the board’s Dec. 7 meeting, architect Robin Breslin detailed the design plans for the $38 million school, which will have three stories and include, among other features, a music and art room as well as a pre-school and daycare center. 

Board director Lisa Conover cast the “no” vote.

In other business, the board voted unanimously to give the go-ahead for the district to apply for the state’s 2017-18 Refugee School Impact Grant through the state Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

The grant, which would provide up to $70,546 in funds, would aid the district in offering refugee children various after-school and summer programs that would help them with academic and social adjustment problems. The programs would serve refugees that have been in the U.S. for less than three years at the beginning of the school year. 

The board also approved 9-0 a motion allowing the district’s director of grants and development to accept a federal grant for 21st Century Community Learning Centers for students at Dieruff High School and Harrison Morton Middle School. 

The $399,000 in federal funds will provide about 266 students with after-school and summer programs. The programs will help students with their academic work and provide programs such as music recreation activities and career training. Part of the funds will be used to hire a project coordinator.

The board also passed 6-3 a change in policy where, if a vacancy occurs on the board, the board can by a majority vote appoint somebody of any political party to fill the seat. Under the previous policy, the vacancy had to be filled by someone of the same party.

Director Robert Smith, a Republican, voiced his objections to this change before the vote. He said that some voters consider party affiliation when voting for school board members in elections. The board could "replace me with a communist or anybody," Smith said before the vote.

Smith, along with directors Lisa Conover and Cheryl Johnson-Watts, voted against the policy change.

District Solicitor John Freund said the previous policy may have violated the First Amendment by forcing government to choose a candidate based on party affiliation.

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