Lehigh Valley

Easton Area School Board reviews building projects with new board members, public

The Easton Area School Board Wednesday night held an informal work session primarily to update incoming board members about the $100 million in school building projects and take questions from the public.

As part of its five-year capital plan passed last fall, the district plans to renovate Tracy and Forks elementary schools and replace Cheston and Palmer elementary schools with new schools. Other major work has already been completed, including a new roof on the high school this summer, renovations to Paxinosa Elementary School and various other maintenance projects.

The meeting, held at Cheston on Easton’s South Side, attracted a small audience, including parents and Cheston PTA members who praised the planned replacement of the elementary schools. Some retirees who expressed concerns of about more tax increases in a district where household incomes are already stretched thin were also present.

Randy Galiotto of Alloy 5, a Bethlehem architectural firm, highlighted some of the design features at Cheston. They include a large gym, a stage that doubles as a music classroom and an expansive cafeteria that can open into a lobby to create space for public events. Classrooms would be located to the rear of the building along Lincoln Street.

The new Cheston school will be built on open space next to the existing building. After the old Cheston school is razed, the area will be developed into a park-like open space, Galiotto said.

The new Palmer Elementary School will provide an improved floor plan, with longer hallways and more room to accommodate bus traffic, he said. Classrooms will be on the east side of the building spread across on three floors.

The Cheston and Palmer projects are scheduled to begin next year.

Board President Frank Pintabone, a lifelong resident of Easton’s South Side, said Cheston will be a great resource for students and the community. He said the school’s needs have been overlooked for a long time “but those days are long gone.”

He said financial market conditions make it “a good time to borrow,” presenting an opportunity that may not be available in the future and allow the financial effects on taxpayers to be spread out over the next five years.

Responding to a question about how the district will be able to support a $100 million plan in an area with modest salaries, Pintabone said that economic change starts with a sound education. “That’s what we’re striving for,” he said.

Michael Simonetta, the district’s chief operating officer, said a tax increase of 2.7 percent is under consideration. He said taxpayers need to understand that the district’s fund balance is in good shape and that the increases would not only support the capital improvements but also other major expenses such as salaries.

Superintendent John Reinhart said the project will provide a “transformation” in how Easton will teach its students. The district’s greatest challenge is to keep pace with technology and anticipating what may be coming a decade from now.

“It’s a tough game,” he said, adding that school districts can no longer count on the debt-burdened state to be a financial partner.

Incoming board member Brian Snyder of Palmer Township said he doesn’t like higher taxes “but this will do something tangible.”

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