Will you support independent, non-partisan journalism?

Become a champion of local news and unlock additional benefits as a LebTown member, like exclusive members-only emails, access to comments, invitations to members-only events, and more.

Make an impact. Cancel anytime.

Already a member? Login here

Forty days remain on the Northern Lebanon school district’s 2022-23 calendar. Six more weeks of this current “old-school” era.

When a fresh school year begins this fall, Northern Lebanon’s state-of-the-art elementary school will usher in a new period in local primary education.

Construction of Northern Lebanon’s new elementary school, the first in Lebanon County to house all of a public school district’s kindergarten- through sixth-grade students under one roof, is well-engaged, on schedule, and poised to open at the start of the 2023-24 school year in August.

Located in Bethel Township, just east of School Drive, directly across from the Northern Lebanon High and Middle School campus, the building portion of the $55 million project began in the spring of 2021 and has proceeded as planned, with only a few minor setbacks.

“It’s going very well,” said Northern Lebanon superintendent Gary Messinger. “Most of the things will be wrapping up in June and then we will be waiting for some electrical items in July. We feel pretty good about occupancy in late July or early August. That gives teachers time to get in and get their rooms ready.

“There are a lot of people excited about this,” continued Messinger. “At the elementary level, from a Northern Lebanon community standpoint, we’re tying all the townships together with this building. There were some rivalries in the past, but this is about the community. We talk about the educational components of this building, but there’s more to it. We’ve set it up so we can involve the community in events.”

The two-story, 190,000-square-foot Northern Lebanon Elementary School, which will also serve as the new home for district’s administrative offices, will combine the students from the school district’s four current elementary schools: Jonestown, Fredericksburg, Lickdale and East Hanover.

The new structure will feature seven to eight classrooms per grade, two large-group collaboration spaces, a couple of art classrooms, a pair of music rooms, a special education area, two STEM classrooms, a full-sized gymnasium, a designated cafeteria, a two-sided stage, a television studio and a media center.

Rendering showing what the new elementary school may look like inside once complete. (Provided graphic)

The new Northern Lebanon Elementary School is being built on 50 acres of land that the school district purchased 30 years ago. Outside, the facility will be home to two field hockey/soccer fields, two youth baseball/softball fields and 284 parking spaces.

“There are so many advantages with the new elementary school,” said Messinger, a 53-year-old resident of Fredericksburg and a Northern Lebanon graduate. “The building will have better security and better technology. We’ll be more efficient. There are better spaces for education and collaborative learning. Just in terms of updating, we were working with outdated things like HVAC systems and undersized gyms. In one fell swoop, we updated four elementary schools with this one building.

“There’s power in education when you work together,” Messinger continued. “Right now, we don’t have a lot of opportunities for collaboration. Teachers learn from each other. Those are the types of things we’re going to be able to do now. We’re going to be able to work together now to best meet the needs of our kids.”

Rendering showing what the new elementary school may look like inside once complete. (Provided graphic)

Jonestown, Fredericksburg, Lickdale and East Hanover elementaries were all built around the same time, the late 1950s and early ’60s. Although since renovated, the Jonestown and Fredericksburg buildings once served as high schools, before combining to form Northern Lebanon High School in 1957.

The four existing elementary schools will be sold, and the proceeds will be used to help offset some of the costs of the new Northern Lebanon Elementary School. But Messinger said that the new building will also save the school district a considerable amount of money in operating costs – up to $30 million over 30 years, per one study.

According to Messinger, Fort Indiantown Gap military reservation has already expressed a serious interest in purchasing the East Hanover and Lickdale buildings, while other parties have enquired about buying the Fredericksburg and Jonestown schools.

“We’re hoping to get appraised value,” said Messinger of the four old elementary schools. “We believe three of them are close to wrapping up and getting appraised value. With the fourth, we feel like we’re getting close.”

The new Northern Lebanon Elementary School will serve about 150 students in each grade, and each grade will be instructed by seven teachers. The school will employ a total staff of about 90, including physical education teachers, music teachers, STEM teachers, special education teachers, librarians, administrative staff and support staff.

“We’ll have less (total) positions than we currently have, however, no one is losing a job,” said Messinger. “And we’re really happy about that. But we will have to move some people around. We’ve been planning for and working towards this for a few years. We’ve been working through attrition.”

Covering an area of 144 square miles, Northern Lebanon is physically the largest school district in Lebanon County. Northern Lebanon serves the mostly rural townships of Cold Spring, Swatara, Union, Bethel, Hanover, and Jonestown Borough.

“We were going to have to renovate all of our four elementaries or do something like we did with this one,” said Messinger. “We had zero space. Even if two teachers wanted to work together, it was very difficult. There are spaces in the new building that will allow for a lot of collaboration.

“If you’re an educator, teaching and learning better be important,” he concluded. “If you get into it, there’s an assumption that you love kids. You’re trying to share your experiences with kids who are trying to figure out what they’re going to be doing for the rest of their lives. There are different ways to do that. Anyone who walks through the door of a public school, we’re responsible for.”

Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

Do you want to see more from LebTown?

Support local news. Cancel anytime.

Already a member? Login here

Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that the new school is in Union Township. It is actually in Bethel Township. We sincerely regret the error.

Jeff Falk is a seasoned journalist based in Lebanon, PA. He's a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, Penn State University, and a lifelong resident of Lebanon, born and raised. Currently, he is a feature writer for Engle Publishing in Lancaster, the editor of LebCoSports.com, sports director at WLBR...


LebTown membership required to comment.

Already a member? Login here

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments