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Building task force faces many questions

February 18, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A 45-member advisory committee looking at the future facilities needs of the Chambersburg Area School District has some fundamental decisions to make before it makes any recommendations to the school board this spring.

At the first meeting Tuesday night, however, some members expressed concern about reaching any kind of a consensus with such a large group in just 16 hours of actual meeting time.

"The committee is so large, it's going to be hard to start any meaningful dialogue," said L. Michael Ross of the Franklin County Area Development Corp.

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Last spring, the board voted to do a facilities study, primarily aimed at determining what should be done with the high school. In December, with three newly elected members, the board changed directions to take a broader look at all of the district's elementary schools and secondary schools.

Out of that vote came a decision to form the advisory committee, which is working with Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates of Mechanicsburg, Pa., the architectural firm selected to do the study.

The advisory committee includes the school board, as well as representatives for district municipalities, teachers, administrators, parents, students, business and community groups. From now until the final meeting on May 18, the committee will be looking at the existing buildings, enrollment projections, grade realignment and educational needs before examining options for a master plan, the costs of those options and setting priorities.

The committee's recommendations could form the basis for the feasibility study, said Paul Taylor, the director of educational architecture for Crabtree Rohrbaugh.

One issue the committee will have to come to grips with is the 18 elementary schools in the district, Taylor said. He looked at 14 statistically similar districts, most of which have half as many grade schools for approximately the same number of students.

Taylor said the committee needs to decide whether the number should be reduced and whether all elementary schools should have the same facilities. "Should they all have gymnasiums? Should they all have music rooms?" he asked.

The district has a student population of 8,036 now, but the Pennsylvania Department of Education projects enrollment will rise to more than 9,200 by 2012, an estimate the committee will need to take into account in determining building requirements.

"I'd like to hear from the individual teachers" about what they believe their schools need, board member Renee Sharpe said. Taylor said a survey of all teachers can be incorporated into the information gathering process.

Board member Lori Leedy said probably few of the committee members, herself included, have seen more than a few of the 21 school buildings in the district to see the layout and state of facilities in each.

"You're talking about buildings," said board member Craig Musser. He said a master plan has to consider educational needs as well.

"If the only thing we come out of this with is a recommendation for bricks and mortar without consideration of the educational program, it's been another exercise in futility," said Chambersburg Borough Council President William McLaughlin. "I was on the same committee 15 years ago," he said.

Ross, who favors elementary school consolidation, said he hopes the process results in "a master plan for the future that moves us beyond studies to action."

The next meeting, at which the committee will look at existing facilities, will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 2, in the district administration building.

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