Board members also dismissed two of five options presented last month during a public meeting about the schools' fate.
Two options were taken off the table because they call for repairing the 43-year-old Hopewell school—something board members don't think practical, since renovations are estimated to cost nearly as much as a new building.
The remaining options under consideration are:
- Repair Lower Milford and then demolish Hopewell.
- Demolish the current Hopewell building, construct a new Hopewell and close Lower Milford.
- Demolish the current Hopewell building, construct a new Hopewell and repair Lower Milford.
Built in 1950, Lower Milford is the smallest, the oldest, and the most remote of the three elementary schools in the Southern Lehigh School District.
At one point during the meeting, as supporters of the school clamored from the audience, board president Jeffrey Dimmig implored for order, as he simultaneously sought to dispel any notion that a decision about the school's fate has already been made.
"We're all just trying to gain information here," here he said. "Please give us the benefit of the doubt."
As they did at the Aug. 28 meeting, several parents of Lower Milford students told the board they fear their children will have to endure longer bus rides if the school closes, and that they find bus rides of up to 50 minutes—the maximum allowed length of a one-way bus trip for students in the district—unacceptable for very young children.
Board members also discussed the potential timeline for taking action on construction of a new school or repairs to an existing one.
"The longer we wait, the more we're going to pay on our bond interest," board member Dr. Elizabeth Stelts said. "I think we should move quicker rather than slower."
School district director of operations Todd Bergey told the board he thinks it could be "two to three years" before a shovel is ready to be put into the ground, but Jeremy Melber, the district's director of business services, thought the progress from planning to execution could come more quickly.
Both men will help make the recommendation the board is now seeking, which is expected to be delivered at the Oct. 14 school board meeting.
The demographics study the school district recently commissioned on the schools will be helpful, but only projects population growth within the district for the next five years.
Beyond that, "who knows," superintendent Leah Christman told the board. "Nobody has a crystal ball."
Photo: Southern Lehigh School District Director of Operations Todd Bergey reviews a map of where Lower Milford Elementary School students live, in relation to the district's three elementary schools. Bergey discussed the map in an effort to alleviate parental concerns about long bus rides for Lower Milford Elementary School students, if the school closes.