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Public debates the future of Chambersburg area schools

September 27, 2000

Public debates the future of Chambersburg area schools



By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Parents, teachers and students from the Chambersburg Area School District gave their opinions Wednesday night on a feasibility study that could determine what schools will be renovated, closed or built over the next two decades.

There was general agreement among those who spoke at the public meeting at Faust Junior High School that there should be two middle schools for grades six through eight in the district, which now has a middle school for grades six and seven and a junior high for eighth- and ninth-grade students.

"Two middle schools would have fewer than 1,000 students and that is an ideal size for a middle school," said Mike Boryan of Chambersburg. He also recommended moving the ninth grade into the high school because "They are earning credits toward graduation and should be located in the high school."

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Opinions differed on the district's need for another high school. Phillip Foreman of Foreman Architects Engineers, is performing the study and said the school has a capacity of about 1,500, but an enrollment of approximately 1,700.

"I get shivers up my spine when I hear that," high school teacher Chuck Lucas said of proposals to put ninth-graders in the high school. He said the 45-year-old school is technologically unsuited to teaching the courses students need for the future.

"If a farmer was still farming as he did in 1955," he'd be out of business," Lucas said. The high school needs to be modernized and used for grades nine and 10, with a new school for grades 11 and 12 across the street on district-owned property, he said.

A number of teachers attended the meeting and applauded Lucas' proposal.

Student Government President Matthew Carr also lobbied for a new high school. He read out a long list of the building's shortcomings, including no air conditioning.

"Coming to this school is hard when you know you're going to be uncomfortable all day," he said.

Carr also said class sizes are too big, the hallways too congested and the cafeteria too small. "Some students currently stand while eating lunch," he said.

The school's electrical system cannot handle the computers and other new technology in the building, according to Carr. He told the school board members of a sign taped to a microwave oven warning that if it and a window air conditioner were turned on at the same time, it would cause the school's computers to crash.

Parents and teachers were in agreement that the elementary schools should remain kindergarten through fifth grade, but were divided over whether to consolidate the 18 elementary schools into fewer, but larger schools.

Parent Tim Wilmot of Chambersburg spoke in favor of keeing one of the smaller elementary schools open. "Mary B. Sharpe (Elementary School) has a remarkable academic performance" despite having no cafeteria or gymnasium and one of the largest classroom size averages in the district, he said.

Other parents and teachers, several of them associated with Sharpe Elementary, supported the idea of keeping as many neighborhood schools as possible open.

"If you consolidate the schools ... it gives a lot more options for the students," said Joanne Hammond, a parent and librarian at Chambersburg Area Middle School. She and others said consolidation would allow each school to have a nurse and education specialists who are not now available to all schools on a daily basis.

Superintendent Dr. Edwin Sponseller said the district's population, has dropped from about 10,500 students in 1972-73 to about 7,900 now. The population, however, has been at about that level for the past 10 years and projections are that it will drop about 100 more over the next decade.

Classrooms are at a premium in the high school, however, because many classrooms have been dedicated for technology courses and special education.

Depending on which of several options the school board adopts, the price tag is likely to be $100 million or more spread out over a decade, or more.

School Board President D. Eugene Gayman said there will be a more public meetings before the district makes any decisions on grade configurations, consolidating elementary schools or the construction or renovation of the high school.

The feasibility study was required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education in order for the district to be eligible for state reimbursement on a planned school construction project at Scotland Elelemtary School, Foreman told the audience of several hundred people.

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