Bethlehem Press

Sunday, June 25, 2017
press photo by liz kemmererThe property at Farmersville Road and Freemansburg Avenue. press photo by liz kemmererThe property at Farmersville Road and Freemansburg Avenue.

Board considers selling empty property

Tuesday, March 14, 2017 by Liz Kemmerer Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

The directors are exploring possibilities for the two vacant land parcels located at the corner of Freemansburg Avenue and Farmersville Road. The district has owned the 15.45 acre lot since 1979 and has leased it as farmland for the past several years.

The ongoing growth in residential and commercial real estate over the last few years along the Freemansburg Avenue corridor has triggered the need to evaluate the property as an educational asset, explained BASD chief facilities and operations officer Mark Stein at the facilities committee meeting Mar. 5.

In an analysis of the property that he compiled, Stein said the property is an ideal size for an elementary school if the district should experience an unforeseen spike in enrollment. Its proximity to residential and commercial areas and local highways, however, make it a great prospect for a commercial developer as well.

“Owning a prime piece of property for either long term insurance against increasing enrollments, or getting in on the ground floor of growing commercial development in the Freemansburg Avenue corridor is a great problem to have,” Stein said.

The property is located in the Farmersville ES sending area and sits very close to the Miller Heights ES border. Students from these schools will attend East Hills MS and Freedom HS. In his report, Stein included an evaluation of the current enrollment capacities and enrollment trends that these four schools have seen over the past 20 years to help determine if the need for building another school exists.

Additions were put on all four of these schools to support the rise in enrollment caused by the housing boom of the 1990s. Since then, enrollment on the district peaked at 15,354 students in 2006-07 and has been steadily decreasing until this year, with all schools following the same general trend, Stein explained.

According to an analysis based on the practical application of space in each school, Stein figured that Farmersville ES can hold up to 175 additional students. Miller Heights has space for up to 125 additional students, East Hills MS can fit a maximum of 411 additional students and Freedom HS can take another 90 students.

All of these schools have room for additions on their properties if enrollment should spike beyond these numbers – a cost of about $5 million for a four-classroom addition versus $25-$30 million for a new school, Stein explained in his report.

Other potential uses for the property include constructing administrative facilities, athletic fields or a storage facility for the district, but these would be challenging to justify in these tight budget times, Stein explained.

“Holding the property is a safe bet that will likely result in increasing property value,” Stein said. “However, with no foreseeable need for enrollment insurance and continuous budget pressure, the property could mean attractive one-time revenue to re-invest in district facilities.”

On the note of selling it to a commercial developer, Stein proposed investing in the safety of the community and adding value to the property by helping to realign the intersection of Farmersville Road. The road is offset several hundred feet at Freemansburg Avenue, making it dangerous for traffic coming from either direction to turn left onto it. The portion north of Freemansburg Avenue could be rerouted into the district’s property, Stein suggested.

PennDOT and the township will likely require a traffic light at the intersection, requiring an investment of approximately $25,000 - $30,000 from the district, but resulting in additional value added to the property in the long run, Stein said.

Stein’s recommended next step is an appraisal of the property to learn its actual value and help the board make an even more informed decision.