School building plans coming to a head in Chambersburg

March 01, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Changes proposed by Chambersburg School Board President Craig Musser in the district's $116 million building plan would shift money away from a new high school and toward elementary school projects.

"My take is we've talked long enough and need to do something or put it on the back burner," Musser said Monday. The administration needs direction from the board "and the sooner the better," he said.

Last month, the board voted to have the administration prepare a $10 million bond issue to begin planning for a new Fayetteville Elementary School and pay for $3.8 million in upgrades at Faust Junior High School. Last week, the Buildings and Grounds Committee did not come up with a recommendation to close an elementary school, specifically Duffield.


When the district voted to incur debt of up to $116 million, the plan was to use money from several bond issues to pay for a new high school and two new elementary schools, including land purchases. The $3.8 million for Faust, however, would come from that pool of money, Business Manager Rick Vensel said.

Following the committee meeting, Musser met with Schools Superintendent Edwin Sponseller and Vensel. As a result, Wednesday's board meeting agenda includes discussion of several elementary projects.

Musser directed the following items be put on the agenda:

· Convert Hamilton Heights Elementary from three classrooms for each grade to four by 2006-07.

· Modify the Fayetteville design from three classes for each grade to four, with the possibility of expanding it to five-deep in the future. That school would open 2007-08.

· Convert U.L. Gordy Elementary to a three-deep school (three classrooms per grade) by 2008-09.

· n Schedule hearings to close Duffield by the end of the 2006-07 school year - a year later than earlier envisioned - and hold hearings to close the King Street and Mary B. Sharpe schools at the end of the 2007-08 school year.

Also on the agenda is a request to upgrade Guilford Hills Elementary.

Land for Fayetteville recently was donated to the district and additional land for Gordy could be acquired from the borough, Musser said. The money saved on land purchases could be used for elementary projects, he said.

The district has yet to buy land for the high school and planning for it is in its preliminary stages, Musser said. The elementary projects, if approved, likely would cut into the estimated $88 million for the high school, he said.

That could mean proposed amenities such as an indoor pool "may be left off the wish list," Musser said.

"I think there will be a very vigorous discussion at the meeting ... Some of this has never been discussed by the full board," board member David Sciamanna said. "There's no question ... we're up against a growth curve in elementary age population," he said.

Sciamanna said he also has heard from district residents and "there's a concern the high school project is losing momentum."

Vensel said the district has not analyzed the cost of expanding Hamilton Heights or U.L. Gordy, but the construction cost of Fayetteville would increase from $9.5 million to approximately $11 million if built with four classrooms per grade.

Hamilton Heights has a student population of 467, above its capacity of 450 based on an average of 25 students per classroom, according to James Taylor, the assistant superintendent for elementary services. Hamilton Township is one of the fastest-growing areas in the district, he said.

The board once looked at building a new Gordy elementary for about $10 million, but that was halted on a tie vote in January 2004 to allow time for a task force to study the district's building needs.

Richard Bender, the district's director of facilities, told the buildings and grounds committee last week that Guilford Hills badly needs a new heating system. On Monday, he said proposed improvements will cost between $2.3 million and $3.3 million.

The lower figure would pay for a new heating and air-conditioning system and energy-efficient windows. The higher figure would allow additional renovations so that "you wouldn't have to touch that building again for 25 years," Bender said.

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