During the Monday, August 14 Northampton School Board meeting, D’Huy Engineering, Inc. and KCBA Architects provided an update on the land development and permit progress for the proposed Route 329 elementary school project.
President of D’Huy Engineering, Inc., Arif Fazil, explained that one of the bigger items currently being worked on is the intermunicipal sewer agreements between East Allen Township and Allen Township, East Allen Township and Northampton Borough, and Allen Township and Northampton Borough, which is currently in a final review process after the board approved it later in the meeting.
The other item the district is waiting on is the sewer module that was submitted to DEP at the end of June, and it is currently under review, which is usually a 120-day process.
Additionally, PennDOT approvals for the highway occupancy permit are under final review and subsequent approvals for sewer, water line and gas line easements have all been reviewed and will be subject to approval as soon as the HOP under final review is completed.
While final DEP sewer module approval is under final review, East Allen Township has also agreed to review the building plans in preparation for issuance of a building permit, so if there are any issues with code-related items, they can be incorporated into the bid set for the contractors to bid on appropriately.
Therefore, the only thing left to submit and obtain is the East Allen Township final land development approval, which is pending approval following the sewer module.
Fazil stated that the project may begin construction in March depending on how things pan out and finish sometime between early 2026 throughout that summer, so that the school will open in August 2026 for the 2026-27 school year.
The next steps for the project and bidding schedule are as follows: advertise project on August 22, August 28 and September 5; mandatory pre-bid meeting with contractors on September 8; receive bid proposals starting October 26; meeting with leadership team to review bids and prepare recommendation to school board on November 2; provide recommendation of award to board on November 7; and board meeting for bid award on November 13.
During the meeting, various board members expressed interest in keeping Moore Elementary open in addition to building the new elementary school, so the district would potentially have five elementary schools in operation.
School Board President James Chuss proposed a poll to determine who would prefer to keep Moore Elementary open, and board members unanimously voted in favor of having five elementary schools, with Moore Elementary remaining open.
Director Kim Bretzik asked what the financial plan is to sustain a fifth elementary school and make the necessary repairs, including costs associated with staffing and repairs?
After the poll, Fazil suggested that the facilities committee put some parameters together and present those to the board to refine costs and impact associated with keeping Moore Elementary open and phasing renovations.
The poll came as a shock to many residents because in September 2022, the board voted on the direction of the Act 34 Hearing that took place in November. Option one was to build a new elementary school, close Franklin Elementary and keep Moore Elementary open, which would mean that the district would have five elementary schools. Option five was to build the new elementary school and close all buildings while keeping some sections of building open for administrative and community uses.
Board members that voted for option one included Kim Bretzik, Robert Mentzell and Doug Vaughn, with all other board members choosing option five, so by majority vote, the board moved forward with option five in preparation of the Act 34 Hearing.
Additionally, during the June 16, 2022 NASD elementary school options and facility improvements presentation, Fazil presented that the estimated cost to renovate Moore Elementary at $180 per square foot plus 30% in fees and contingencies totaled $25,178,400, which would add to the projected $73,406,193 in costs for the Route 329 elementary school project.
Therefore, if using the data previously provided, this would bring the total costs to $98,584,593 and would require the district to increase its debt service. As of June 30, 2022, the district’s remaining borrowing capacity was capped at $114.5 million.
However, now that the board is switching directions, Kovalchik advised the board to be prepared if they want to go down this path for the financial implications that having five elementary schools open will cost.
More information to come.
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