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December 13, 2013

City’s kindergarten students ready for move

NEW CASTLE — Boxes are being packed and moved out of St. Joseph’s school.

The last day of school there will be Dec. 20. When New Castle kindergarten students return from Christmas break, they will attend the new Lockley Early Learning Center for the second half of their school year.

Smart boards have arrived and new furniture — desks and chairs — are to be delivered next week, when floors will be varnished and waxed.

Kindergartners will be the first to attend the Lockley center, which is nearing completion.

Although the entire learning center will be finished within the next month or two, children in grades one, two and three will continue attending classes in West Side, Thaddeus Stevens and JFK primary centers for the remainder of the current school year.

Then, children in grades one and two will begin the 2014-15 school year in the new Lockley center in the fall, and the third-graders will go to George Washington Intermediate Elementary School, which now houses grades four, five and six.

Superintendent John Sarandrea said elementary principal Debra DeBlasio plans to have orientation at the new school for kindergartners and their parents on Jan. 3 and 4, and kindergarten classes will resume in the new school Jan. 6.

He noted the gymnasium will not be finished until later in January.

The school board had scheduled a public hearing Monday on the closing of the West Side, Thaddeus Stevens and John F. Kennedy primary schools. No one from the public attended.

Sarandrea noted that no decision on the closings will be made for at least 90 days after the hearing and, most likely, the board will vote in April.

During the hearing, Sarandrea noted the buildings targeted for closing are from 47 to 56 years old and need comprehensive upgrades. Their technologies and utilities are wearing out and operating at low efficiency, he said, pointing out the district had closed JFK school for a day recently because of a gas leak in the heating system.

The buildings do not comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Sarandrea continued.

The district also has experienced a decline in enrollment, and the number of classrooms in the closing schools exceeds the space needed for future enrollment, he said. The consolidation into the Lockley Center will result in a space reduction from 152,000 to 98,100 square feet.

Educational advantages of the consolidation are that the early learning center will allow progressive change in teaching, through small group instruction and advanced technology.

The reading program, which is the core of the primary grade curriculum, will be centralized in grades kindergarten, one and two.

The early learning center construction gave the district financial opportunities, explained Joe Ambrosini, district business manager. The district was able to secure nearly $17.4 million in interest-free borrowing through qualified school construction bonds, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he said.

The district qualifies for about 30 percent state reimbursement — $6,825,000 — of the estimated project cost of $22.7 million.

Ambrosini told the board the district also has an opportunity for earnings through a guaranteed investment contract. The district’s annual principle payments on the project will be invested and placed in an interest-bearing escrow account and will not be distributed to bond holders until final maturity in 2030.

The state’s public school building authority will oversee the investments and the trustee will hold and invest the money for the benefit of the school district in segregated accounts, he explained.

With school consolidation, the district also will save money through reduction of staffing and in operation costs, Ambrosini said. That will be reflected in the district’s 2014-15 budget, he added.

Ambrosini estimated projected operating cost savings at $400,000 a year.

He projected the district’s out-of-pocket cost for the entire project will be between $14 and $15 million.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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