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Lehigh County News

Bridge to the future: Lehigh County unveils five-year, $118 million Capital Plan

Cedarbrook
Brittany Sweeney
/
LehighValleyNews.com
A $53.5 million Cedarbrook Phase II project in Allentown is included in Lehigh County's five-year Capital Plan.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Major renovations at Cedarbrook Senior Care and Rehab, agricultural conservation and bridge repairs are the major expenditures in Lehigh County’s $118 million 2025-29 capital plan.

Details were reviewed at a virtual joint meeting of Lehigh County commissioners’ General Services and Finance committees on Monday night.

Projected spending in the plan is $118,414,110.

The plan calls for 2027 bond financing of $78,350,000 for various projects.

The Cedarbrook Phase II project in Allentown is budgeted at $53.5 million.

The agriculture conservation easement project would cost $11.3 million.

The bridge repairs project price tag is $9.8 million.

“This is a directional five-year plan, not a financial obligation."
Rick Molchany, director of general services, Lehigh County

A presentation of the capital plan was made by Lehigh County General Services Director Rick Molchany.

“This is a directional five-year plan, not a financial obligation,” Molchany said. “But a one-year plan will be placed into the budget; they will become an obligation.”

The capital plan is contingent on approval by the board of commissioners.

Molchany said the obligation plan inside the budget will be presented to the board of commissioners in August and is typically ratified in the budget by the end of October.

Capital Plan.jpg
Phil Gianficaro
/
LehighValleyNews.com
Lehigh County's five-year Capital Plan, including debt service data, were presented on Monday night.

Commissioner Jeffrey Dutt said the $78 million bond is not simply adding debt to existing debt.

“We have been paying off some debt, so as not to pile this onto [existing] debt,” Dutt said.

In a June 25 letter to board Chairman Geoff Brace, Lehigh County Executive Phil Armstrong said the executive branch and the board of commissioners have worked collaboratively over the past few years to aggressively and responsibly address the county’s major capital needs and put the county in an enviable position of having a very sound infrastructure.

“However, there are a number of significant needs that need to be addressed,” Armstrong said.

Cedarbrook renovation

The Cedarbrook Phase II plan has not been authorized, but is proposed in the budget, Molchany said.

In the planning stages for more than a decade, the nursing home’s expansion would increase health care options for senior Lehigh County residents in financial need.

The second phase of the Cedarbrook project partly consists of renovating the facility’s electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems and an adjustment of its air-conditioning system.

Consideration also is being given to renovating areas in Cedarbrook’s B-wing into personal care units or apartments.

“We need a waiver from the state to have Jack and Jill bathrooms [gender neutral] instead of individual bathrooms before Phase II can move on,” Molchany said.

If the waiver is not approved, Molchany said, it likely would reduce the facility’s 670-bed count 80 to 90.

Cedarbrook Administrator and Director Jason Cumello outlined facility expenditures including resident beds, wheelchairs and IT devices such as personal tablets.

Several facility renovations, sidewalk replacement and repaving of parking lots also are required.

"Roughly half of our capital expenses, if we approve this, would go to taking care of our most vulnerable citizens," Brace said.

Farm preservation

Because of growing development throughout Lehigh County, the continued preservation of agricultural land is among the county’s priorities.

By buying easements on the farmland with participating farm owners, the county ensures the land is permanently restricted from residential or commercial development.

The investment consists of $3 million from the county and $8.3 million from the state's agriculture fund.

The primary determining factor for deciding to buy easements is quality of soil.

The capital plan lists more than 50 farms on the county’s preservation list.

Encompassing county and state spending, the goal is to add 2,000 acres to the list.

As of June 2024, the county’s Bureau of Agricultural Land Preservation will have protected 403 farms covering 28,028.26 acres, or 30%, with perpetual agricultural conservation easements.

In Pennsylvania, Lehigh County ranks first in farm conservation with counties of similar land sizes.

Bridges structurally deficient

The bridge project would address spans that are structurally deficient or require scheduled upgrades.

“The transportation grid is extremely important to the citizen and business success of Lehigh County,” County Executive Armstrong said.

Despite bridge inspections by the state and repairs by the county’s bridge maintenance department, increased expenditures are anticipated, Armstrong said.

Twenty-eight of the county’s 46 bridges rank within acceptable standards, Molchany said.

“We do have six bridges that are eligible to be rehabilitated,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they’re in dire straits, just that they’re now at a level to be eligible for us to apply for a long-range transportation study."

According to a recent report by The National Transportation Group, or TRIP, titled, “Preserving Pennsylvania’s Bridges,” 360,000 vehicles travel across poor-condition bridges daily in Lehigh and Northampton counties.

The average age of those bridges is 93 years.

Jail upgrades

County Corrections Director Janine Donate said expense increases for projects at the jail post-COVID-19 have been significant and disappointing.

“We have been planning as necessary and being fiscally responsible to do as many things as the county needs,” Donate said. “Sticker shock has happened to us several times.”

Projects at the jail include, but are not limited to, emergency communication system replacement, first-floor window replacements, washer/dryer replacements and replacement of intercom system.

Future video surveillance upgrades at the jail also are being considered.

Other key capital plan upgrade projects include:

  • Parks and recreation: $7.0 million
  • IT systems: $6.1 million
  • Maintenance, $4.8 million
  • General services, $4.4 million
  • Emergency management/911, $1.6 million
  • Vehicle replacement, $1.6
  • Coca-Cola Park, $1.0 million

Those projects include buying new vehicles for county agencies and the district attorney’s office narcotics information team; bullet resistant vest replacements; street and parking lot renovations; and security system upgrades and expansion.
Also, replacement of X-ray machines at the courthouse, old courthouse and government center; replacement of 23-year-old dump truck and trailer and 45-year-old parks and recreation tractor; election facility expansion; county offices furniture replacement; zoo infrastructure improvements; replacement of county vehicles; and nature trail improvements.

The capital plan also includes implementation of a modern P25 digital radio network that includes both simulcast and trunked operations intended to support 4,500 police, fire, emergency medical and other first responders.

The capital plan also allocates $1.3 million for unanticipated major maintenance projects at all nine county-owned facilities.

Complete capital plan details can be reviewed at https://go.boarddocs.com/pa/lehc/Board.nsf/Public.

Staff writer Jay Bradley contributed to this report.