Lehigh Valley

Allentown school board receives new building update

Administration also warns of pending major deficit

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The buildings and locations where the Allentown School District educates children over the next 10 years could change substantially.

During Thursday's building committee meeting, school board members reviewed a feasibility study and the project justification and design for a new elementary school that will replace Cleveland and McKinley elementary schools. The committee forwarded the study to the regular board meeting for approval later this month.

The new building, which will be located at 1227 W. Gordon St., is scheduled to open in the summer of 2020. Directors officially approved the building in August, but the plans presented Thursday night must to be submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, if approved.

Robin Breslin, principal architect of Breslin Ridyard Fadero Architects, reported his firm has spent the last month "designing the specifics of the building," which will cost the district $38 million to construct.

The firm also took an inventory of all ASD school buildings. Their findings indicate that within the next 10 years the district may also need to address seven other buildings. In order from most pressing to least pressing are Union Terrace Elementary, Lehigh Parkway Elementary, Muhlenberg Elementary, Newcomer Academy, Jackson Elementary, Jefferson Elementary and Raub Middle School.

Roughly two out of every three district buildings is at least 50 years or older, according to Breslin.

In other news, district Business Manager Cynthia Craig-Booher presented an Act 1 2018-19 budget timeline, noting the district's Act 1 Index is at 3.7 percent.

The Act 1 Index is Pennsylvania's measure for determining property tax increases. Each district's index is calculated separately for each fiscal year and consists of two parts - the base index and the district adjustment.

If the district wishes to raise taxes above the index they must receive and exception or exceptions from the department of education or face voters in a referendum. By comparison, the statewide index is 2.4 percent, according to the timeline submitted by Craig-Booher.

The business manager also told directors the district is once again "facing a major deficit" and will have to consider every and all options to raise revenues, cut expenses or most certainly a combination of both.

In order to accurately assess the district's current financial situation, Craig-Booher asked the board to forward a contract with a consultant. The deal requires PFM Group Consulting to evaluate ASD's long-term capital debt and costs savings options for the district.

The contract would also ask PFM to provide the district a menu of initiatives to enhance ASD revenues and control expenditure growth. The district would pay PFM $50,000 to help them get their financial house in order should directors approve the pact at the regular board meeting.

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