Southern Lehigh School District Plans Building and Facilities Renovations

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Alex Kane

Over the next year, Southern Lehigh School District will engage in multiple building rennovations.

Alex Kane

Built in 1955, Southern Lehigh High School and its athletics facilities are beginning to show their age, in more ways than one. Much of the 2019 Football season was spent with “home” games being played at alternate venues due to the condition of the football field.  Within the building, another memorable mishap was the day in March of 2020 when the students of Southern Lehigh High School were sent home early by a plumbing failure.

“What I remember most is that we had a giant Algebra II test that we were supposed to take that day,” junior Aiden Tobin said. “We were stressing out because Mrs. Dottery hadn’t walked into the room yet, [and then] the announcement came on and the entire class started chanting in celebration.” 

District administration is aware of the issues and sought out several bids and options over the past few years.  The proposed updates to the high school building itself are extensive and range from cosmetic adjustments to structural maintenance and updating, to preparations for future expansion.  Notably, a February 2019 presentation to the Southern Lehigh School Board prioritized sewer system overhauls as well as expanding areas that have long been outgrown and outdated.

“I know we are looking at a new stadium, a new performing arts center, some secure entrances, and are looking to update other spaces such as the guidance office and tech ed,” said high school principal Mrs. Beth Guarriello. 

Such extensive work would not come without a cost, however, both monetary and temporal. Mrs. Guariello said that the financial cost of renovations could vary depending on which of the proposed plans are selected. Per documents from a February 2019 school board workshop, the proposed work on the high school could total $190,037,861.

Despite the towering costs, however, Mrs. Guariello believes that renovations will impact the high school in more ways than one.

“These renovations will have a tremendously positive impact, though it will be challenging during renovations since we would not be able to use the spaces,” she said. “I believe the inconvenience will be worth it.”

The looming question now is how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected renovation plans, and the answer is rather unexpected and complex.

“Planning and meetings are carrying on as scheduled, though I don’t know how it will impact construction,” Mrs. Guarriello said, “and the pandemic may affect funding for renovations.” 

While seven options for renovations to district facilities were proposed, the school board selected “option six,” according to the 2019 records, due to the belief that it would satisfy a number of criteria ranging from aging infrastructure to maintenance and security.

Beyond updates to the classroom, the selected renovation plan would vastly overhaul the district’s athletics facilities, with $5,042,730 earmarked for these renovations, with an impact on sports equal to the impact on the classroom.

“The renovations would have an extremely positive impact on district athletics,” athletic director Mr. Marc Zimmerman said. “Our coaches have wanted improvements for a long time, so I know it will be received in a positive way by all groups, and give us as a school district something to be proud of.”

As with updates to the district’s education facilities, it remains yet to be seen how greatly the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the plans. Through the renovation process, the level of impact on athletic field usage and scheduling could vary, depending on what is updated when.

The transformation of the present stadium field to a synthetic turf surface opens up the possibility of hosting events such as Colonial League and PIAA District XI postseason football games to the district.

With many memorable manifestations of age, it is clear that time has not been kind to Southern Lehigh High School or its associated athletics facilities. From the infamous early dismissal to the rapid and severe deterioration of the football field, there remains a great deal that needs to be done to repair and rebuild district facilities.