By next month, the Bethlehem Area School Board expects to make a decision on the future of the 90-year-old Nitschmann Middle School building.
Will they renovate it or will they replace it?
On Monday night, school board members heard a report from Facilities and Operations Director Mark Stein on four options for the building – three variations for renovating and a plan to build a new building at an estimated cost of $53.7 million.
The options as outlined:
A. Capital improvements would be limited to electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems. There will be fire alarm and emergency power upgrades; air conditioning; new heating and ventilation system; new exterior doors and windows; a sprinkler system; new ceilings and ceiling tiles and new floor tiles. Cost: $23.1 million
B. All of the improvements outlined in Option A, along with some changes to building finishes and internal space modifications. Cost: $34.6 million
C. The improvements outlined in options A and B, along with the construction of building additions, which will allow for a new auditorium, gymnasiums, kitchen and classrooms. Cost: $48.4 million
D. A new Nitschmann Middle School will be built. The existing building will be demolished, changing the footprint of the property at Eighth Avenue and Union Boulevard. Cost $53.7 million
Several board members, including President Mike Faccinetto, have already decided that new construction is the best option. Faccinetto noted that Nitschmann has already gone through two large capital improvement projects in its history.
“I don’t see that we have another option,” Faccinetto said. “At what point do we waste taxpayers' money again and do a disservice?”
Board members Aurea Ortiz and Shannon Patrick agreed.
“After taking a tour of the building, I do not think it is a proper learning environment,” Patrick said.
Two board members – Basilio Bonilla and William Burkhardt – questioned the magnitude of the expense of new construction.
The new Northeast Middle School, which was completed in 2005, cost $32 million to build, Burkhardt said. Is inflation the only factor in increased expense? he asked.
More recently, the district built a new Broughal Middle School for $57 million, but that project was more elaborate, involving the construction of a parking deck.
Nitschmann is the only middle school of four in the Bethlehem Area School District that has not been extensively renovated or replaced since the district began an aggressive capital improvement program 20 years ago.
The district had planned to begin replacing Nitschmann after Broughal construction wrapped up, but the nation’s economic woes, and the district's, put the project on ice.
In 2008, the estimated cost of construction was $64 million. The plan put forth on Monday is $10 million cheaper and district officials say even more may be shaved as planning proceeds.
Building new is still expected to cost the average taxpayer $60.52 a year, though that does not necessarily mean that taxes will go up by that much if the district’s builds a new school, said board member Irene Follweiler.
Regardless of which option the board chooses, borrowing and construction would not begin before 2015 to give the district a chance to pay off more of its long-term debt, which currently sits at $286 million.
If a new school is built, the district’s long-term debt will return to where it is right now by the time the new Nitschmann opens in 2017, according to Superintendent Joseph Roy.