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Board weighs more options for Chambersburg schools

July 15, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg School Board met in a special session Wednesday afternoon to discuss building plans for its elementary and secondary schools.

Vice President Craig Musser said the board was in agreement on having two middle schools for grades six, seven and eight; eliminating elementary schools with one class per grade level; and having a comprehensive facilities plan in place within the next two months or so.

Architect Paul Taylor of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates of Mechanicsburg, Pa., outlined options for the project.

The most expensive option, plan S1B, totaled $125 million, and was "a wish list," Taylor said. It includes a new high school for grades nine through 12 at a location to be determined. The existing high school and J. Frank Faust Junior High School would be used as middle schools.

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With $4.3 million in renovations, Chambersburg Area Middle School would be converted to a four-deep (four classes at each grade level), 500-student elementary school for grades kindergarten through five, the plan proposes.

Of the existing elementary schools, all the one-deep schools - Sharpe, King Street, U.L. Gordy, Coldbrook, Letterkenny, Duffield and Marion - would be closed.

Plan S6, the least-expensive option, is "the opposite of S1B," Taylor said.

The $80 million plan includes using the existing high school for the 1,400 students in grades 11 and 12, and converting CAMS with 41,000 square feet of additions for use by the 1,400 ninth- and 10th-grade students. Faust would receive a 202,000-square-foot renovation and would "set the standard for middle schools," Taylor said. "It would be used as a basis for developing a new middle school of the same size."

This plan leaves the district with fewer square feet for education, he added.

"You can't go any lower (in cost) if you're really seeking to improve the buildings," Taylor said. "The real project is somewhere in between" these two options.

A modified plan 1B calls for a new 500,000-square-foot high school for grades nine through 12 at a cost of $72 million. Renovations would be done to the existing high school and to Faust for use as middle schools.

Elementary schools would receive fewer additions and would house 4,000 students.

Modifications to plan S6 call for two high schools - the existing one and the current CAMS building - after additions to the CAMS library and kitchen.

Several elementary schools would get additions and have a capacity for 3,800 students.

"These are the upper end, the lower end and the middle," Taylor said. "We're here as a resource to help your discussion and to see what the district is interested in."

Superintendent Edwin Sponseller reported the results of his inquiries to heads of school districts of similar size to Chambersburg about their experience with splitting grades nine and 10 from grades 11 and 12.

Most officials said that handling about 1,400 students in each building is easier than supervising 2,800 in one building. Some of the split schools were on the same campus, others as far as two miles apart. Several officials noted that "smaller is better," Sponseller said.

"We need space more than anything else," Sponseller said. "We're crowded at Faust, the middle school and the high school. We need to maximize existing space. We're looking for a doable plan we can sell to the community. I think we're going to grow in the future and that the community will want two high schools."

Sponseller said he favors a new high school building for two grade levels.

Board member Renee Sharpe expressed concern about the number of transitions students will have to make.

"Research shows that the more transitions a student makes negatively impacts graduation rate and students' achievement," she said. "Half of the building's population will turn over every year."

Sponseller responded that there has to be a balance between the size of the school and the number of transitions students must make. He added that in some cases a transition is good because a student with behavioral problems can make a fresh start.

"The size of a school should be dictated by the principal and other administrators being able to know every student," he said.

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