On Thursday, December 8, Northampton School District held their Act 34 Hearing, which was required by the Public School Code of 1949 in relation to the construction of a new elementary school and education center (commonly called the administrative center) at the Route 329 and Seemsville Road location that was acquired by the district in 1995.
Back in October, the Northampton School Board approved a resolution that authorized a maximum project cost of the elementary school and education center for $473,406,193, and a maximum building construction cost of $44,707,536.
The proposed elementary school and education center is the third leg of the district’s Capital Plan, whereas the first leg of the plan was to build a new middle school, and the second leg of the plan was to build the new Lehigh Elementary School, both of which have now been completed.
This part of the capital plan also involves the consideration of four existing buildings in the district: the Franklin building, which is the kindergarten center and was built in 1907; the Washington building, which is currently home to the district’s technology center and was built in 1904; the district administration building, which was built in 1922; and Moore Elementary, which was built in 1958.
This proposed two-story elementary school and education center would replace all four of those existing buildings and would account for the projected enrollment influx of 1,800 homes being built in the Northampton area within the next 10 years. This proposal will also help alleviate overcrowding at Franklin Elementary, which is at capacity, and also at Siegfried Elementary where some students are taught in hallways due to a lack of space.
The new elementary school will have a capacity of 700 students and the projected enrollment in the two or three years it takes to complete the project will be approximately 525 students.
The proposed building of the elementary school and education center as well as the closing of the four aforementioned buildings is what the school board previously decided upon in October. This decision will also allow Moore Elementary to remain open for limited community use. However, the district is still in the planning stages, so it is not currently known what parts of the building will remain open, and thus require renovations.
The district identified the goal will be to maximize safety and security, so there will also be separate bus and parent drop-off areas, especially since more parents have been dropping off their children at school instead of having them ride the bus due to Covid. As a result, this will be accounted for in the driveway lengths of the pick up/drop off areas.
D’Huy Engineering, Inc. President Arif Fazil expressed one of the biggest cost functions of the project will be site work. However, a lot of the site infrastructure necessary for the building construction has already been completed, such as the improvement of roadways, the addition of stop lights, utilities, and all of the grading for stormwater management. Therefore, development will focus on the site development of the building itself, driveways, and roadways coming off of the relocated Seemsville Road.
The project is anticipated to be competitively bid in the spring of 2023 through the public bid process with a minimum of four prime contractors. Then, the construction will begin in the summer of 2023 and will take approximately two years until completion.
The district will utilize a wraparound debt service structure to take advantage of a drop off in old debt service, so when the older debts are paid off, that money will be freed up in the budget and dedicated to the new debt service for the project, which will minimize the millage impact from the project.
Additionally, there are some indirect cost savings anticipated as a result of the project completion that are related to professional personnel and support personnel with a total annual reduction of $990,000.
The overall millage equivalent of the project is anticipated to be funded in three bond issues. The millage from the three bonds is estimated to be 2.72 mills minus the indirect cost savings, which equate to 0.83 mills per year, for a total millage impact of 1.89 mills.
Residents had quite a few questions regarding the project. One resident voiced the lanes on Route 329 and Seemsville Road do not look big enough to be handling the proposed 1,600 tractor trailers that will be utilizing those roadways from the proposed Jaindl warehouse compound plus all of the buses that will be bussing children to and from the proposed elementary school, especially because traffic already backs up at the intersection now.
Fazil responded that the traffic analysis done for those particular lanes was done separately but was reviewed by the township and PennDOT and met all of their criteria. Fazil added that the traffic studies that have been done show that the traffic light and stacking space that is provided are more than adequate to address the traffic flows.
Residents also wanted to know why the current buildings that the district plans to close are too old to renovate. Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik explained that a cost analysis was done compared to building new and the difference in costs would only be approximately $1,000,000. Kovalchik added that building the new elementary school would also assuage requirements for enrollment and space needs.
Questions were also raised regarding the 20 projected classrooms for special needs students and whether this will be enough classrooms to account for the 19% of students in the district that are in special education. Jay Clough from KCBA Architects stated that this would be enough to account for special education students and will be distributed fully throughout the facility to provide flexibility.
Additionally, questions regarding the number of pre-K classrooms were asked due to the closing of Moore Elementary and Franklin Elementary. The proposed elementary school will only have five pre-K classrooms, which would essentially only cover the capacity of children that attend Franklin Elementary. Superintendent Kovalchik responded that the five pre-K classrooms will cover district students only. The flex spaces that are proposed on the site plan will also allow for changes to be made each year depending on the needs of the students, but will accommodate special education, pre-K, and other grades.
Last, Superintendent Kovalchik expressed that the district will keep residents informed throughout the process and encouraged everyone to visit the district website for updates.
More information about the proposed elementary school, education center and the Act 34 Hearing can be found at nasdschools.org.