NORTHAMPTON, Pa. -

A long-anticipated school building project in the Northampton Area School District officially got the green light Monday night.

The school board unanimously awarded about $61 million in contracts for a new, $80.7 million middle school that will be built on the site of the former Bethlehem Vocational-Technical School building.

Of the remaining $20 million that will be spent on the new school, $5 million will go into a contingency fund, with the rest going for permits and financing and attorneys fees.

The three-story middle school for grades 6 through 8 will have 65 classrooms and 12 science labs, and is expected to be finished by June 2015.

The four biggest contracts went to Penn Builders of Quakertown, Bucks Co. ($42,053,500 for general construction); Guy M. Cooper Inc., of Willow Grove, Montgomery Co. ($7,855,000 for mechanical construction); Wind Gap Electric, of Wind Gap, Northampton Co. ($7,499,862 for electrical work), and Jay R. Reynolds, of Willow Street, Lancaster Co. ($3,416,700 for plumbing work).

Work will begin in the first week of May, with the building of a new access road to the campus that will include a bus loop and a parking lot.

Demolition work on the vo-tech building and the field house next to the high school will begin this summer. The existing middle school, which was built in the late 1960s, will be torn down in the summer of 2015.

About 1,300 students are expected to attend class at the new middle school in the fall of 2015. The school will be able to accommodate as many as 1,500 pupils, and could be expanded to handle up to 1,800.

The school will be paid for by a 1.85 millage rate increase spread out over five years. The average property owner will pay $104, or $21 a year.

Board member Cory Fenstermaker said the vote was "a sentimental moment for me," because he was born in the 1980s when discussion of building a new middle school began. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Fenstermaker said he got involved with the school project as a member of student council. "I've experienced this my whole life," he said, "and having [this project] move forward, it's great to see."