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Southern Lehigh SD makes decision about 2 elementary schools

By Stephen Althouse, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 10 2014 10:20:04 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 11 2014 06:13:52 AM CDT

The Southern Lehigh School District has decided the fate of two elementary schools.

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. -

Lower Milford Elementary School, it's been good knowing you.

But your days are numbered after the Southern Lehigh School District Board of Directors voted 6-3 during Monday night's meeting to close Lower Milford, demolish Hopewell Elementary School and then build a larger facility on the property where Hopewell currently rests, for about $17.75 million.

The new Hopewell school would encompass about 57,000 square-feet. When asked for a timeline of the closure of Lower Milford, President Corinne Gunkle would only indicate "several years."

She also said the building and facilities committee will be in charge of deciding the timeline.

The vote ended what could best be described as a mini-drama that spanned several months, took up many meetings and generated enough disagreements to be classified just as a difference of opinion.

The district has been wrestling with how to handle the aging infrastructure on their hands.

Prior to the vote, Gunkle attempted to paint a vivid picture to the roughly 75 people in the audience at the high school auditorium, about just how the board of directors arrived at this juncture.

The district has had a hornet's nest of problems with older buildings and Gunkle made it clear during her speech that Hopewell's glory days are longer gone than a home run at Coca-Cola Park.

The school has HVAC, electric and plumbing issues that would cost a small fortune to fix. Furthermore, she took pains to note how taxpayers of the district have preached that the board of directors practice fiscal austerity in their proceedings, thus presenting the board with a distinctively difficult decision to render. 

Lower Milford was built in 1950 and renovated in 1991, according to Todd Bergey, the district's director of support services. Hopewell has never been renovated.

Directors had six separate options to vote upon during Monday night's meeting. 

As a result of Monday night's vote, Lower Milford students will be sent to Hopewell and the district's other elementary school, Liberty Bell Elementary School.

After the board's decision, the majority of the audience exited the auditorium wearing expressions ranging from disappointment to resignation.

Three separate individuals spoke during a public comment session prior to the vote noting that the board's decision to close a facility would be "hasty." Obviously the board did not agree.