Construction of a new seventh- and eighth-grade building in the Lebanon School District is moving into a new phase of planning, reconfigurations and, according to district officials, some creative reinventing.
“I would say that the continued increase in enrollment has pushed building projects like this to the forefront,” said Lebanon Superintendent Dr. Arthur Abrom.
Abrom noted that space “has a very large impact on the quality of education. Student enrollment is driving a lot of this. It’s extremely important to me to get this building built and our plan accomplished.”
While many of the details still need to be sorted out, what we do know is that the Lebanon School District’s new seventh- and eighth-grade building will be constructed on a handful of acres that the district owns, south of the Lebanon High School building at 1000 S. Eighth St. in the city.
The land, which is bordered by Wilhelm Ave., is currently being used for athletic activities like track and field, junior varsity baseball, field hockey, softball and various team practices.
Lebanon City Council has already approved special zoning exemptions for the property’s use by the district.
“What we’re trying to do is get our plans approved so we can put a shovel in the ground next summer,” said Abrom, 54. “We are in the midst of considering different design models, studying the best way to situate the building on the property.”
Abrom said the school district also considered locating the new seventh- and eighth-grade building — for which the district has yet to come up with a name — on land across from its new Northwest Elementary School; at Optimist Park, approximately 1400 Elder St. in the City of Lebanon; and at the former Lebanon Catholic School on Chestnut St.
“We thought it was best to build on our own property,” said Abrom. “It will allow for shared spaces. Building on the high school campus alleviates the cost of purchasing additional land. It also provides us with opportunities to share staff and elevate students to attend classes at the high school. There are a ton of advantages in using your own property.”
If all goes as planned, construction of the new 145,000-square-foot seventh- and eighth-grade building could begin as early as next summer. Construction is expected to take two years, and the building could be finished by August 2024, possibly in time for the start of the 2024-25 school year.
When it is finished, the new building will initially serve city students in grades six, seven and eight. Renovations to the current Lebanon Middle School building, located at 350 N. Eighth St., will commence following the completion of the new building, and then fifth- and sixth-graders will be relocated to the Lebanon Middle School.
Right now, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students in the school district attend Lebanon Middle School.
“We can’t reduce class sizes until we have more classrooms,” Abrom said. “This gives us an opportunity to decrease class sizes and spread out. Studies have shown that smaller schools do better than larger schools, education-wise. You can provide more personalized learning this way.”
“Our student enrollment continues to go up,” he added. “We’ve been talking about building since I got here in 2017. Now, we don’t have the luxury of time.”
The estimated cost of the new construction is between $35 million and $40 million. To fund the construction, the Lebanon School District plans to use $15 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds and about $23 million to $25 million of saved finances, thus lessening the impact on taxpayers.
“Our school board has made a commitment to take on these projects without increasing taxes,” said Abrom. “That’s our goal. But with that being said, we do believe we would still need to borrow up to $30 million to complete all the projects over the next several years, like the renovation of the Eighth St. building and the renovations of athletic fields.”
Lebanon is the fastest-growing school district in Lebanon and Lancaster counties, according to 2019 Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 data (reported by Lebanon Daily News, paywall).
Over the last 15 years, the Lebanon School District has seen its total enrollment increase by approximately 1,000 students, to a total of about 5,300. Abrom said all of the school district’s five elementary buildings are currently at 96 percent capacity or over capacity.
“Families continue to move to Lebanon for a better quality of life,” said Abrom. “The current buildings are at capacity, so we have a need for additional space for our students. Class size is extremely important. Our students have always received a quality education and that will not change. We are a diverse group which helps to prepare our students for their future, whether it is going into the working world, college or service.”
In July, Lebanon School District conducted a town hall meeting in the high school’s Starr Auditorium to inform city residents and discuss the proposed new building and plans for renovating the current middle school. A similar town hall meeting was staged on June 15.
“The school board of directors and myself are committed to creating the best educational environment for our students to succeed in,” said Abrom. “The next step is continuing to meet with our building-design team along with our administration to come up with the best education building for our kids.“
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