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Board remains undecided on future of Chambersburg High School

July 27, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg School Board could decide next month on whether to build a second high school for grades nine to 12 or consider another option for a new middle school and an academic wing at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center.

Either way, the district might have to go to a referendum to get the money needed to accomplish its secondary program and complete its elementary construction plans.

"It's kind of odd to see where we are now," board member Thomas Orndorf said. Two years ago, the board opted to incur debt up to $116 million for a 2,800-student high school and two elementary schools, a plan that also contemplated converting Chambersburg Area Senior High School and Faust Junior High School into middle schools.

With a new Fayetteville Elementary School, an expansion of Hamilton Heights Elementary School and a nearly $7 million reconstruction of Trojan Stadium committed to or under way, the district has about $60 million for new construction before it would have to go to a referendum under Pennsylvania's newest school property tax relief law, Board President Craig Musser said. The figure could be as high as $80 million if the district can exploit various exceptions to real estate tax caps, he said.

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The district, however, also is exploring the construction of elementary schools at the sites of U.L. Gordy and Grandview and renovation and expansion of Stevens Elementary School.

Musser said those projects would cost about $52 million.

Building a new high school for about 1,400 students on 78 acres the district purchased near Greenvillage, Pa., would cost about $73 million, Musser said.

The second option would be a $45 million middle school for grades six to eight in Greenvillage and an academic wing at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center to hold 800 or more district students. Musser put the price tag of that at a minimum of $9 million.

This year, the district will be sending most of its more than 300 career and technology students to the center all day for the entire year, the exception being seniors, who will attend one semester at the center and the other at the high school.

Since the plan for a 2,800-student high school was adopted, a demographic study has predicted the district will have 3,200 high school students by 2015 and the board is rethinking the concept.

"Two high schools and a career and technology center would be a good way to educate 3,200 students," board member Renee Sharpe said. She said she does not favor having separate schools for grades nine and 10 and grades 11 and 12.

Board member Stanley Helman said he does not think the community is ready to accept having two high schools.

"I think we're going to have to work with the money we know we have," board member Fred Rice said.

"There's no way we can get there with $60 million, no matter what you do," Musser said.

"I think you build another middle school and put a high school at Faust," said Superintendent Joseph Padasak. Then the district could have two high schools and two middle schools, including Chambersburg Area Middle School, and the academic wing at the technology center.

Musser said he wants the board to make a decision at its Aug. 9 meeting. If the district decides to build another high school, it could be three years before construction starts and three more before it opens, he said.

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