Officials weigh high school's future

School board members hear the ups and dows of having two high schools or building one mega school.

School board members hear the ups and dows of having two high schools or building one mega school.

August 08, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Chambersburg school board members debated Wednesday whether a district with two high schools would lead to the perception of a "good" and a "bad" school after hearing reports on how the district could be split and the costs that would be associated with that move.

A district divided along U.S. 30 would create one school in a primarily industrial area to the south and west of the Borough of Chambersburg, and one with a more rural setting with upscale housing to the north and east, board member Craig Musser said.

"If I'm a parent and there are two high schools, I would know pretty soon which is the better high school," said board Vice President Penny Stoner.


Much of the discussion dwelled on the socio-economic advantages one school might have, following reports by two school administrators.

Ted Rabold, assistant superintendent for pupil services, said it would be most fair to divide the district along U.S. 30 with the existing high school serving the south and west end of the district and a new high school serving students from the north and east. Each school would house roughly 1,250 students in grades nine through 12.

Eric Michael, assistant superintendent for curriculum, reported on operational costs of a two-versus-one high school system.

Based on his analysis, it would cost an additional $1.75 million in start-up costs for a second high school, including filling a library and purchasing computers.

It would cost $1.68 million more annually to pay for at least 14 additional teachers and to duplicate athletic and extra-curricular programs. All told, it would cost about 20 percent more to operate two high schools versus one new "mega high school," Michael said.

"I feel studies of academic performance justify that," said Stanley Helman, chairman of the Building and Grounds Committee. "Thousands of studies document the improvement of graduation rates and behavior in smaller schools."

Not everyone agreed.

Board member Bill Fosnot noted Chambersburg is the largest high school in the county but has the highest test scores.

Building a second high school and renovating the current senior high school or building one new school to accommodate all ninth- through 12th-graders in the district are two main proposals the board has been considering as it looks for ways to alleviate overcrowding at the aging high school.

A new high school for 1,250 students would cost about $48 million and renovations would cost $39 million. A mega school to house up to 3,000 students would cost about $86 million, according to consultants' figures.

Helman said the options being discussed would take several years to complete and he suggested an alternative Wednesday that would provide more immediate relief.

He suggested hiring a firm to replace the roof, windows, bathrooms, electrical system, heating, ventilation and air conditioning. One company has given an estimate of $14 million for the project and said it could be completed over the next two years.

"It will be six to eight years when we're through construction of a new school. I don't see us using the present school the way it is for six to eight years," he said.

He also recommended building an addition to house a library and media center that could be open to the public and would free up space in the main building, an idea that drew some interest from board members.

Although Helman said he had hoped to narrow down the list of options, by late Wednesday night the board had not reached a consensus.

The public will have an opportunity to speak on the proposals at a meeting on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.

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