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Answers sought on Chambersburg school land plan

March 02, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Wednesday's public hearing by the Chambersburg School Board was about buying land for a new school, not how many high schools the district should have, but several residents posed questions about the future of secondary schools.

The hearing on the purchase of 78 acres in Greene Township at the intersection of U.S. 11 and Pa. 997 is required for reimbursement from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said architect Paul Taylor. The board last year agreed to buy two parcels, known collectively as the Fries farm.

In 2004, the board decided the district should build a new high school and convert Chambersburg Area Senior High School and Faust Junior High School to middle schools, Superintendent Edwin Sponseller told about 40 residents at the hearing.

"I think a lot of things have changed from two years ago," Sponseller said.

The 78 acres is less than the district wanted for a high school and some residents suggested buying more land adjacent to the farm.

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"Do it now. The land is going to shoot up in value," said former board member Mike Finucane.

Sponseller said he could not detail ongoing real estate negotiations, but said the district is exploring the idea. Acreage is an issue because a demographic study of the district points to a high school population of about 3,100 in 2015, while the district has been planning for a 2,800-student building.

"By the time you get it built ... it's going to be full," said resident Harry Rotz.

Former board member Harold Fosnot asked if the district considered the 200 acres it is slated to receive from Letterkenny Army Depot. Business Manager Rick Vensel said only about 60 acres have been conveyed to the district and Board President Craig Musser said there are land use restrictions due to pollution.

"It sounds like it's heading toward two high schools. Is that what the district wants?" asked resident Jenny Zullinger.

"I think the picture is becoming clearer and clearer as we go along," Sponseller said. "Our board has changed and our population projections have changed," he said, referring to the two new board members elected since the 2004 vote.

Last week, the board discussed secondary school options, including the single high school plan and two high schools, as well as separate schools for grades nine and 10 and 11 and 12.

Taylor said the Fries farm is smaller than two other farms the board considered, but it has good road and utility access and is relatively level.

Along with the $3.1 million for the land, Taylor said the Fries farm needs about $2 million in grading and utility work, bringing site costs to $5.1 million. Under the state's reimbursement formula, he said the district could recoup about $1.8 million.

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