Lehigh Valley

Board to decide fate of aging Southern Lehigh elementary schools

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - Southern Lehigh School District directors, who are currently grappling with how to deal with two of its aging elementary schools, will make a final decision at its Monday, March 10 meeting.

Board President Corrine Gunkle announced the decision date at Monday night's school board meeting, stating meetings leading up to March 10 will give board members the time needed to examine all options and ask further questions of administrators.

School directors are tasked with deciding whether to close Hopewell Elementary School, built in 1970, or the much older Lower Milford Elementary School.

However, directors could choose to rebuild one school and repair the other, keeping both open.

Lower Milford Elementary School was built in 1950 and renovated in 1991, according to Todd Bergey, the district's director of support services. Hopewell Elementary School has never been renovated.

One of the options directors are considering is whether to raze Hopewell, build a new school on the property and also repair Lower Milford at a cost of $17 million.

Another is building a new school on the Hopewell property and closing Lower Milford at a cost of about $15 million.

A third option is repairing Lower Milford and razing Hopewell at a cost of about $3.5 million.

Displaced students would be transferred to Liberty Bell Elementary School.

Bergey told the board that building a new Hopewell Elementary School would take at least two years.

School Board vice-president, William Lycett, said that residents of Lower Milford and Upper Saucon townships will not be happy no matter what decision is rendered.

"Regardless of what we do, people won't like it," Lycett said. "The public is not going to like any change. It was never not an option to not have (three) elementary schools. That's always been on the table. It's not a forgone conclusion that we're going to two schools. We have to do what's right for the kids and the taxpayers."

School Director, Kathleen Parsons, said that if Lower Milford Elementary School is closed, many parents will likely take their children out of the school district and place them in charter schools.

School Board members, along with administrators, engineers and members of the Upper Saucon Township and Lower Milford Boards of Supervisors, toured both school buildings earlier this month to take stock of the repair work required.

Lower Milford residents have been vocal in recent months about keeping Lower Milford Elementary School open.

In other business, school directors voted to add two instructional dates to the district calendar in order to make up for days lost to inclement weather.

Southern Lehigh students will now attend school on Friday, March 14, which was originally scheduled as an in-service day for teachers.

Directors also added Friday, June 13 to the school calendar and set Southern Lehigh High School's graduation for the same date.

Directors said the addition of June 13 to the school calendar gives the district one additional inclement date to play with for the remainder of the school year.

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