The Cornwall-Lebanon School District announced plans for a major project overhauling its main campus at a school board public work session on Monday night.
Although the Cornwall-Lebanon school board took no action, it was informed of the findings of a previously approved facilities study conducted by the architecture firm of Beers + Hoffman, related to upcoming renovations of Cedar Crest High School and Cedar Crest Middle School, as well as district’s educational service center that is located on the same campus in South Lebanon Township.
The facilities study calls for an extensive $90- to $130-million renovation – a figure that will become more precise during the design and development phase — that will also include overhauls to the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems that support the three buildings that on the district’s main campus.
While it is currently unclear how the project would affect taxpayers in the school district, the project could begin as early as January 2023 with the design and development, and last as long as six years.
Cornwall-Lebanon superintendent Dr. Philip Domencic characterized the proposed project as a way to “update the buildings for the long-term future.”
“We’re in the very, very early conceptual stages of this project,” he said.
Domencic said that investment is needed now to prevent a much more difficult program in the future.
“It’s really just where the age of the buildings are right now,” said Domencic. “Things just wear out. When things get old, they get outdated. If you don’t do this, you end up in a situation where your buildings are dilapidated.”
While general maintenance is routinely performed on all three of the main campus’s buildings, it’s been 25 years since the high school and middle school have undergone major renovations, and even longer for the Education Service Center, which houses the school district’s offices.
Cedar Crest High School was built in 1964, followed by Cedar Crest Middle School and the Education Service Center five years later.
Over the past quarter-of-a-century, some 10,000 local students have graced the halls of and graduated from Cedar Crest High School.
“It’s a significant number,” said Domencic. “Some of it is wear and tear. But buildings just wear themselves. They just wear out.
“I’m not sure (if it’s one of the most ambitious renovation projects the district has ever undertaken),” he added. “You’ve got to adjust for inflation. But you could make the point that when these buildings were first constructed it was a massive undertaking. It was a big deal when it happened.
“It’s hard to compare. What makes this one challenging is getting a handle on all of the needs for the future.”
Even when pressed, Domencic demurred on whether the project would directly lead to a tax increase.
“Essentially, probably two bonds will be issued during the project’s work,” said Domencic.
“These are part of a long-term financial plan the district has. We try to time them out and put them on a sequence. We’ve been planning for this for years.”
Domencic said that the district would have to work the project into its budget.
“The plan is part of our regular budget, which could include a tax increase, but there are a lot of factors that impact a project like this,” he said.
The project would see a two-story connector built between the high school and middle school that would provide 22 “very good-sized” temporary classrooms. The facilities study found that the construction connector option would best utilize the current campus space available, that it would not disrupt the current flow of traffic on campus, and that it could eventually be transformed into the permanent home of the Education Service Center and the school district’s offices.
Under that scenario, the building currently housing the Education Service Center would be repurposed or leveled for parking.
“We’re committed to providing quality programs for our students, and part of that is high quality facilities,” said Domencic. “We have plans for these things. This isn’t a surprise. These are long-term commitments within our community.
“We make things better than we find them and then pass them on to the future. There are children who haven’t been born yet who will use these facilities. We’re here to serve.”
According to the facilities study’s timeline, the 30,750-square-foot construction connector would be built first and would take up to 16 months to complete. Then, the 292,216-square foot Cedar Crest High School would be fully renovated, which would take about two years to complete, and the overhauled 201,997-square foot Cedar Crest Middle School would represent the final phase of the project and take about another two years to complete.
The best guess on a completion date for the entire project is summer 2029.
To support the facilities study, the Cornwall-Lebanon School District also conducted an enrollment comparison study. That study projects that the total student enrollment across the entire district is expected to increase slightly and consistently over the next five years, from its current level of 4,989 total students to about 5,051 total students in 2026-27.
In his remarks about the proposed project, Domencic expressed a slight sense of urgency to the school board. Next steps in the process would include Cornwall-Lebanon approving an architect and a construction management company for the project, moves that are expected to be voted on in January.
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