Northern Lebanon School District has finalized the sale of four former elementary school buildings for $9 million, a move that school officials say will improve efficiency and reduce operational costs. 

District superintendent Gary Messinger said the sale of Fredericksburg, Jonestown, Lickdale, and East Hanover elementary schools has already improved the efficiency of the district’s operations on many fronts. 

“When you run four very small buildings, there are inefficiencies in class sizes, there are inefficiencies in staffing, and to just give you an example, each building had a library system and the district had two librarians on top of that,” said Messinger. “In consolidating down to one building, we were able to utilize some of those library assistants in other ways, and along that line, we’ve used some attrition to reduce staff for the new building because we don’t need two librarians and four library assistants in one building.”

Read More: New Northern Lebanon elementary school on track to open this fall

Another benefit is uniformity in class size in the new building versus those that previously ranged from the mid-teens to as large as 21 students per classroom. 

“This now levels that out and we’ve been able to reduce a teacher here and there with the ability to do that,” added Messinger.

He further noted that the HVAC systems in the four buildings that were sold were outdated.

“When you look at buildings that have single-glass windows, it feels like the wind is going right through it in the winter time versus a brand new building where the heating and cooling is going to work the way it is supposed to work. It is just more efficient,” he added. 

Messinger told LebTown that a feasibility study conducted by a former superintendent in the Cumberland Valley School District determined NLSD will save a minimum of $1.5 million annually with the consolidation of four schools into one and up to potentially $2.1 million a year over time.

“The projections for this area, in terms of population, are for it to actually decrease the number of students based on census information and new housing that is not going up in our area, so there’s an anticipated student enrollment drop,” said Messinger. “He said if those projections come true, the district will save up to $2.1 million but right off the bat he calculated savings of $1.5 million (a year).” 

The Pennsylvania Department of Military Affairs purchased the former East Hanover building and its 8.74 acres for $2.1 million and the Lickdale Elementary building and its nine acres for $2.3 million. IU13 bought Jonestown Elementary School’s building for $2.7 million.  

The fourth transaction is the former Fredericksburg Elementary School building, which was sold to Carlisle-based Yellow Breeches Educational Center Inc. for $1.9 million. The Yellow Breeches Education Center is a private, non-profit provider of educational services for individuals with educational disabilities (IED).

Patti Carnes, a Yellow Breeches Educational Center employee, said the school will open on Aug. 28 with 60 students initially, adding there will be six students per classroom per teacher. She added that she wasn’t sure how many districts were sending their IED students to Yellow Breeches, but said enrollment figures are expected to increase in the future. 

Messinger said this new service – as well as the other planned uses – will benefit Lebanon County. 

“We have students who have to travel, in some cases, great distances to receive these services, so hopefully they will be able to utilize this community asset,” said Messinger. “Hopefully, our students will have a closer place to travel to. I also believe they are planning to service Schuylkill County as well.”

In an article published in mid-May, LebTown reported that East Hanover Elementary School is being considered for use as a readiness center for a Pennsylvania Army National Guard unit located at Fort Indiantown Gap, according to DMVA spokesperson Joseph Butera.

Read More: Northern Lebanon School District poised to sell elementary schools to DMVA, IU13

The upgraded facility would allow the unit to conduct their home station drills in a modern space, while still maintaining its vehicle fleet at the Gap due to its proximity.

Butera further noted that Lickdale Elementary School may become a Soldier/Veteran/Family Outreach Facility, supporting veterans, service members, and their families. The DMVA plans to place National Guard and veteran resources in the facility to cater to the needs of those within the region.”

Messinger said the district has had a long-term relationship with Fort Indiantown Gap personnel and IU13. Intermediate units provide cost-effective, instructional, and operational services to school districts, charter schools, and over 2,400 non-public and private schools across Pennsylvania.

“Not only were we very fortunate to sell the four buildings but to tenants that will be beneficial to those communities as well,” said Messinger. “We’ve always had a great relationship with the Gap, Fort Indiantown Gap. We work closely with IU13, as a member district of IU13, and they intend to continue to allow the community to use the facility in the evening and over the weekend just like we’ve done with youth basketball and things like that. We’re grateful to get tenants that bring value to the community because that’s not always the case when you sell these buildings.”

Messinger added NLSD is grateful to get the appraised value for all of its former properties, stating old school buildings can sit vacant for long periods of time or when they do sell, it is only for pennies on the dollar. 

The district’s new building will house 1,000 students and will open in time for the new school year on Sept. 5. Messinger said the start date was pushed back this year from late August to ensure the building was completed on time. (Prior to the start of the 2023-24 school year, the district will host a Bring Your Student to Meet The Teacher night on Wednesday, Aug. 30.)  

Messenger confirmed with LebTown that the new construction project ran into supply chain issues with electrical gear that controlled various functions within the building. He added that the equipment had recently been installed and was currently going through tests to ensure functionality and to pass building code inspection.

“We are allowed employee occupancy after we got clearance from the code official to allow our employees there and our secretaries are working there on a daily basis, our principals are working there and our teachers are getting their rooms ready,” said Messinger. “We don’t anticipate any issues at all having our community occupancy (approved) prior to school starting.”

Messinger said the $9 million from the sale of the old buildings will probably be used to make renovations at the high school facility.

“The planning for this (new building) and going out to bid, all of that started in February of 2020, to be honest,” said Messinger. “So, we funded the building through essentially bonds at that point in time. The funds that have come in and are coming in from the sale of these buildings are going to be placed in a capital projects fund and potentially used to help renovate the high school. Exactly how that’s going to look will depend on what that final cost is and how we want to structure the bond.” 

Read More: Lebanon County districts poised to see funding bump if state budget plan passed

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...