TOWANDA - At its meeting this week, the Towanda Area School Board heard an update on the ongoing $123,100 project to make repairs in the area of Towanda Junior/Senior High School's natatorium.

The project was needed because sections of the brick facade of the natatorium's three exterior walls are pulling away from the concrete inner walls, said Doreen Secor, business manager of the Towanda Area School District.

Numerous ties that hold the facade to the inner walls are broken, and the project involves replacing those ties, she said.

Secor said there is no danger that sections of the brick facade will collapse. The project is being done as a preventative measure "so it doesn't get to that point," she said.

The project also includes replacing the upper sections of 12 pilasters in the interior of the natatorium, which are coverings for structural steel that are attached to the interior walls of the natatorium. The upper sections of the pilasters are separating from the interior walls, said Darin Rathbun, an engineer with Hunt Engineers, Architects, & Land Surveyors, which has been working on the project.

Still another part of the project includes repointing bricks in the area of the natatorium and in other sections of the junior/senior high school, Secor said.

Rathbun said the work on the project, which began in mid-July, is "progressing really well."

While work in the area of the natatorium will continue after school starts later this month, the natatorium is in an isolated section of the school, Rathbun said.

While students are scheduled to start using the natatorium again in October, the work in the area of the natatorium is scheduled to be completed before then, Secor said.

The parts of the project that are taking place in other sections of the school will be completed before the start of school, Rathbun said.

The natatorium project is being done by Middendorf Contracting, which was the sole bidder for the project, Secor said.

"I believe Middendorf's bid was well under our original estimate for the project," Rathbun said after the meeting.

Because Middendorf's bid was so low, the school district was able to go forward with four additional, optional parts of the project, he said.

"I believe with all (the optional parts included in the contract, the total cost) is in the same range as the original estimate," he said.

Those optional parts would have needed to be done anyway, but by doing all the work at once, the school district is achieving economies of scale and doing the work less expensively, Rathbun said.

Northern Tier Counseling

The school board also approved an agreement with Northern Tier Counseling Inc., which will allow the agency to provide outpatient services in two schools in the Towanda School District.

Under the agreement, which had been requested by Northern Tier Counseling, the school district will provide space for the agency to use in the Towanda Area Elementary School and the Towanda Junior/Senior High School, said Superintendent of Schools Steven Gobble.

"We think they will be in the elementary school one day per week, and one day per week in the junior/senior high school," he said.

But the agency will probably not be in either school for the entire day, he said.

The services provided by Northern Tier Counseling would be separate from those provided by the school psychologist, Gobble said.

Northern Tier Counseling's services would be provided by a licensed social worker, according to written information provided by the Towanda School District.

"I think it's a good thing," Gobble said, adding that the new arrangement will mean that students who use the service will miss less school than they had in the past.

School Board member Susan Portnoff explained that until now, parents had to pick up their children from school to take them to their appointments at Northern Tier Counseling, which meant that, if they had lunch at home, they might miss a half a day of school at a time.

By giving Northern Tier Counseling a work site in the schools, students will be away from class only for the appointment itself.

The arrangement with Northern Tier Counseling will not cost the school district any money, Gobble said.

Parents will be responsible for paying for Northern Tier Counseling's services, he said.

The outpatient services in the Towanda School District will be "voluntary," and "all parties involved" must agree to a student using the service, according to the written information.

Gobble said he believes that Northern Tier Counseling has already made similar arrangements for offering outpatient services at three other school districts.

The school board voted unanimously on Monday to enter into the agreement with Northern Tier Counseling.

First Ward School

The school board also voted unanimously this week to authorize Towanda School Board President Robert Fetterman to sign a deed transferring the First Ward School on Fourth Street to its new owners.

In January, the school board had voted to accept an $81,000 bid to purchase the school, which had been submitted by local senior judge Jeffrey Smith, Roger Brown of Ulster Township, and their wives.

However, before the ownership of the property could change hands, the sale had to be approved by a judge of the Bradford County Court of Common Pleas.

Bradford County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Beirne said that since she had worked with Judge Smith, she recused herself from the case.

Instead, the case was handled by Senior Judge David Grine, who is a visiting judge from Centre County, Beirne said.

Grine held a public hearing on the proposed sale and issued a court order approving the sale, she said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.