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Pa. board votes to enlarge schools

March 03, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The Chambersburg School Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to add another wing to Hamilton Heights Elementary School and to enlarge a planned replacement for Fayetteville Elementary School.

The board also voted 7-2 to conduct hearings in the future to close three smaller elementary schools.

Hamilton Heights, which is built to house three classrooms for each grade will have a fourth room for each grade by the 2006-07 school year, according to the vote. The new Fayetteville school, which was planned to have three classrooms for each grade, will have four with core facilities large enough to make it a five-deep school in the future.

According to what was approved by the board, Fayetteville would open for the 2007-08 school year.

An amendment to expand the new Scotland Elementary School from three to four classrooms per grade was defeated.

"I understand, as a board, we had very little agreement" on the size of elementary schools, said Board President Craig Musser.

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Last week, Musser directed the administration to add a number of new proposals for elementary buildings to the agenda.

Musser said if the board was unable to reach some agreement Wednesday, the elementary schools would go "on the back burner" and the focus of the district's $116 million building program would shift to a new high school.

"I've been on record as saying smaller is better," said Superintendent Edwin Sponseller, defining a small elementary school as having fewer than 300 students. "The key to a lot of this is whether you can afford to have a smaller school."

Sponseller said the student population of the district grew by about 250 this year to approximately 8,250.

Hamilton Heights has 467 students and was built to have a capacity of 450 with an average of 25 students per class, said James Taylor, the assistant superintendent for elementary services.

"That many students is a full load for a full-time principal," he said.

Adding a new wing to Hamilton Heights will cost approximately $1.8 million, said Paul Taylor, of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, a Mechanicsburg, Pa., architectural firm hired by the district. He said increasing the size of Fayetteville from three to four classes per grade would bring the total project cost to approximately $13.4 million.

"I guess I've dragged my feet long enough on bigger schools ... It's time to compromise," board member Fred Rice said.

"Class size is more important than the number of kids in a school," board member Lori Leedy said in support of the larger schools.

Board member David Sciamanna said the district needs to look to its future needs as the population grows.

"If we build just enough to satisfy today, we're making a mistake," he said.

"There are times being on a board that you have to compromise," said Board member Eugene Gayman, who has consistently advocated small schools.

The board also voted to schedule hearings at some point in the future on whether to close Duffield Elementary at the end of 2006-07, and the Mary B. Sharpe and King Street schools at the end of the 2007-08 school year.

Musser said the closing of the schools would depend on getting other schools built or expanded to accommodate the students.

The board was just beginning discussions on another Musser proposal: to convert U.L. Gordy from one grade per class to three by 2008-09. The borough of Chambersburg is willing to discuss using adjacent land it owns for a new school.

The board also was scheduled to act on a proposal to spend between $2.3 million and $3.3 million to modernize Guilford Hills Elementary School.

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