Buchanan water tower

Lancaster city Mayor Rick Gray and public works director Charlotte Katzenmoyer direct comments to the School District of Lancaster school board.

Call it a battle between water and education.

And, at the moment, neither side is winning.

The entities spearheading two separate construction projects — a new $17 million Buchanan Elementary School approved by the School District of Lancaster and a 113-foot tall, 3 million-gallon water tower proposed by the City of Lancaster— converged at an emotionally packed community meeting held inside the current Buchanan’s gymnasium.

“It’s very unfortunate that in such a small community we’re being pitted against each other,” school board member Candace Roper said. “Education and students are being pitted against water.”

Such is the case in Lancaster Township, where city officials have halted the school district’s plans to build a new, 60,000-square-foot Buchanan Elementary School due to insufficient water pressure.

To supply the school, which is still in the design and development phase, with adequate water pressure without degrading pressure in surrounding municipalities, the city must construct a water tank.

The tower would be placed next to Lancaster Community Park, across from Manor Shopping Center, on school district property. Without the board’s approval, the city cannot move forward with the project — that is, if city officials don’t decide to take the land by eminent domain.

“We can take this property,” Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray told the board. “(But) we’d like to work with you. We’d like to work together. And that’s why we’re here.”

Charlotte Katzenmoyer, the city’s public works director, explained that the city identified the need for a water tower in Lancaster Township nearly 15 years ago. It investigated several locations, including two within Lancaster Community Park, but decided the school district’s property would be the cheapest site.

In 2013, it gained conditional approval for the tank by the township planning commission. When School District of Lancaster announced it would build a new elementary school in its vicinity, however, the city had to scrap its plans and essentially start from scratch.

Both projects, therefore, are being held hostage by one another.

In an attempt to make peace, Lancaster Township resident Helen Pinder asked Katzenmoyer if there’s any chance the city could move the proposed tower site.

“Not if it costs more money,” Katzenmoyer said, adding that “spending money is something we don’t take lightly.” 

“I hope this is not a case of bureaucracy undermining democracy. There’s no voice that community members can have?” Pinder replied, earning applause from the audience.

More than 100 residents were in attendance.

Lancaster Township manager William Laudien also weighed in, calling the city’s decision to hold up the Buchanan project “duplicitous.”

“Cut me a break,” Gray responded. “It’s not my job to advise the people of Lancaster Township. It’s your job. … You haven’t been constructive with that kind of talk.”

Gray said the city “completely supports” the school district’s plans to replace Buchanan, and that he hopes the city and school board can come to a resolution.

Lancaster Township resident Suzanna Stoltzfus called the situation “unfortunate,” but said she’d support construction of a water tower. She asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they agreed.

About a dozen hands were raised.

The school board likely won’t vote on this matter until December, at the earliest, according to Matt Przywara, the school district’s chief financial and operations officer.

Water tower FAQ by LancasterOnline on Scribd

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