Lehigh Valley

Allentown School Board votes down Jackson building revamp to alleviate overcrowded Ramos Elementary

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - By a 5-4 vote against, the Allentown School District School Board Thursday decided against a revamp of the former Jackson School to house the relocated kindergarten classes from the allegedly overcrowded Ramos and Lincoln Elementary Schools. 

Prior to the vote, Board Member Charles Thiel expressed a need for more definitive plans from the district over the exact fate of the vacated space at Lincoln and Ramos Elementary Schools once their entire kindergarten populations were relocated to the Jackson building. 

Thiel claimed he got a "disconnected picture" after hearing and reviewing the district's proposal two weeks ago at it committees meetings. 

According to district officials there is a high priority need to maximize school building space more efficiently and eliminate currently overcrowded conditions at Ramos Elementary School.

There's little to no space at our elementary schools," said Jennifer Ramos, executive director of elementary education, to the school board two weeks ago. She explained the elementary program is experiencing space constraints with little remaining in many of the grade schools to accommodate increased enrollments in special education and English as a second language curriculums.

According to district documents, the Jackson Building, formerly Jackson Elementary, contains 15 classrooms with a capacity for 350 students of which 312 combined students from Lincoln and Ramos will fill its interior.

With a total student population of 830, Ramos also provides classrooms for students with special needs such as autism. As a result, the school's art, library, and faculty rooms have been downsized to provide for special needs students.    

The district's plan was to move all 212 Lincoln Elementary and nearly 100 Ramos students to Jackson which currently contains 35 alternative education students in grades six through eight destined for the William Penn Building which has room for 130 more children.

The school district claims the plan reduces overcrowding at Ramos and allows for a more effective administration of support services. As a result, Jackson and Ramos students can share the same green space and playground in addition to programs and services. In addition, alternative education will greatly benefit from staff and services being housed under one roof.

Ramos Kindergarten Teacher Katie Kirchar said she was against the proposed move to Jackson since it's an older building lacking air conditioning and contains mold and poor air quality throughout. 

However, Kirchar objects to the logistical difficulties and safety concerns that will ensue when three elementary schools in the neighborhood simultaneously dismiss students to adjacent streets congested with heavy traffic conditions.

Director of Facilities Services Thomas Smith said although Jackson is part of the district's upcoming feasibility study, he was unaware of any mold or unsafe air quality issues in the building.

He also noted the school would have been outfitted with new fixtures, carpeting, lowered water fountains, and new cafeteria tables and furniture.

The proposed move and reconstruction would have cost the district $55,376 to be paid for out of its general fund.

Thiel said the entire idea is not dead in the water, however, before he and four other board members would recast their votes they would need to see more detailed plans especially on Lincoln Elementary.

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