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Board to review new high school plans

February 22, 2006|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A discussion of the future configuration of secondary schools, including a new high school, will be on the agenda for discussion at tonight's special meeting of the Chambersburg School Board.

The district last year agreed to purchase 78 acres near Greenvillage, Pa., for a new secondary school, but there is some question among board members as to whether the district should build one large high school, or consider other options, including two high schools for grades nine through 12, or one school for grades nine and 10 and another for grades 11 and 12.

"Currently, the motions that have been passed by the board give direction to the administration to have one large high school," Board President Craig Musser said. "The discussion Wednesday night will center around some other ideas."

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The board has previously directed the administration to plan for a ninth-through-12th-grade high school for approximately 2,800 students. A Pennsylvania Economy League study commissioned by the district, however, projects a high school student population of about 3,100 by 2015.

"Is one high school of that size possible at the current high school or at the land we purchased in Greenvillage? I believe the answer is possibly no," Musser said.

"I still look at moving ahead and designing a new high school for the property we have purchased," said board member Thomas Orndorf, chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee. He said the site might not accommodate all the playing and practice fields originally envisioned, but "from a business and educational standpoint, I think it can still be done."

The limited space of the Greenvillage site was one reason the district decided to refurbish Trojan Stadium at Chambersburg Area Senior High School rather than build a stadium at a new high school, Superintendent Edwin Sponseller said.

"I just don't see how it would be doable," Orndorf said of two four-grade high schools. "I honestly don't see how you could make the switch with the possibility of referenda coming" he said of proposed property tax reform legislation that could result in districts having to put annual budgets before voters for their approval.

One issue is cost, Orndorf said. Two complete high schools with the same number of students as a larger one would cost 25 percent more to operate, he said. In discussions with teachers and administrators, Orndorf said another concern is providing equal facilities at two schools.

Achieving a socio-economic balance of the populations for each school "so one isn't a poor sister to the other" presents difficulties, Sponseller said. At the same time, he does not favor one large high school.

"My position was that there ought to be two high schools - one for grades nine and 10 and one for grades 11 and 12 and they ought to be within four miles of each other," Sponseller said. "I think it's more important than ever that we have two schools."

"All the literature suggests smaller schools are better," Sponseller said. Two completely separate nine through 12 high schools would provide more opportunities for students to participate in sports and other activities, but would be more expensive, he said.

One way to change the student population numbers would be to make the Franklin County Area Career and Technology Center a comprehensive high school with academic as well as vocational courses, according to board member Stanley Helman, who favors two high school buildings. About 400 Chambersburg-area students now attend the center half of each day, but the center could attract more students if they attended all day throughout the year, he said.

Orndorf agreed the board needs to examine that idea. Orndorf and Helman said the biggest hurdle to that is getting the other five participating districts to agree.

Musser said he wants a discussion on the future of secondary schools before a March 1 public hearing on the purchase of the Greenvillage property.

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