Elizabethtown grapples with whether to fix or close school
BY CHAD UMBLE, Staff Writer
With looming maintenance costs at its two smallest elementary schools, Elizabethtown Area School District continues to grapple with how and when a decision could be made to close one of them -- or neither.
With a price tag of $656,000 to fix its roof, the 176-student Bainbridge Elementary School presents the thorniest problem as officials consider the wisdom of closing the school or making the repairs needed to keep it open.
Meanwhile, Mill Road Elementary, which has 215 students, needs roughly $300,000 in repairs to its roof.
Following a lengthy discussion at a buildings and grounds committee meeting Tuesday, district administrators resolved to lay out a timeline for school board members about when decisions would need to be made about closing, or not closing, a school.
Several board members said that, by May, they would like to know if closing a school was something that was being seriously considered.
With any school closing subject to a 90-day review process, that timeline means that none of the schools would be closed before the 2013-14 school year.
Louisa Clark, chairwoman of the finance committee, said that knowing by May whether a school might be closed could affect decisions about next year's budget. She added, though, that the decision about closing a school is still up in the air.
"I know it is an option, but I know nobody's mind is made up," Clark said.
A presentation at the committee meeting also showed that while a recent consultant report indicated that there is the equivalent of 30 empty classrooms across the four elementary schools, any extra space is being used.
The district report said that of the 77 classrooms at the schools, 50 are being used as primary grade classrooms. Of the remaining rooms, 12 are used for art, music or clubs, while 11 are utilized by academic support groups, leaving only four unused.
"If we have space, we're going to use it," said Michele Balliet, district superintendent.
The district's presentation illustrated that moving students from a closed school to the remaining ones wouldn't be as simple as shifting students to now-empty classrooms. Instead, it would require some creative scheduling and reshuffling.
More space could potentially be made by increasing class sizes. Now, the target size is 23 students per class.
Nevertheless, Balliet said she is confident that administrators could make the district's program work under any new arrangement.
"Academically, I want to assure the parents and the school district that we will have a quality program," she said.
In another matter, school officials said they hope to finalize a sale of the Fairview Elementary School building by the end of June.
George Longridge, the district's business manager, said he would first approach Mount Joy Township officials about possibly buying the building, as he heard they have expressed some interest. Otherwise, Longridge said, the district would look to sell it through sealed bids or at an auction.
Fairview Elementary School was closed in June 2011.
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