West Shore School District nears decision on future facilitiesBoard meeting slated for Thursday night to lay out options
The West Shore School District is on the verge of making a decision that could change the look of the district for the next couple of decades.
School directors plan to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday night to discuss the last two options being considered as part of a feasibility study of the district's facilities, a process that began more than two years ago. No decisions will be made at that meeting.
Ultimately, it's a process that could lead to more commercial redevelopment opportunities as existing schools close in favor of more modern facilities.
The district is looking to build new schools to replace aging facilities that can no longer be renovated to handle growing enrollment in some parts of the district, while consolidating schools in areas where the student population is shrinking.
Overall district enrollment is relatively flat, school officials said.
"We have some facilities that need attention," Superintendent Todd Stoltz said. "We could hold off or wait on some things. In some spaces, we cannot."
The Lower Allen and Rossmoyne elementary schools, for example, are not the right size for where the population is growing, he said. Mixed-use developments such as Arcona, a community being built by Charter Homes and Neighborhoods off Lisburn and Arcona roads, are going to drive more students into that part of West Shore.
Enrollment in those areas is projected to grow between about 16 percent and 31 percent by 2021.
The district also sees student growth in northern York County in its Fairview, Fishing Creek and Newberry elementary schools, thanks to development and potential for more in areas around Interstate 83.
Replacement schools are expected in those growing areas.
The district's feasibility and facilities committee in January narrowed the list of building options to three. The board will announce the two remaining options Thursday.
Under all three options, West Shore is looking to build three replacement elementary schools. But each plan is slightly different.
Breaking down the plans
There is a "campus" plan, another called "modify" and a third called "consolidate."
The campus option would include building three intermediate schools for grades four through six, and converting the elementary schools to focus on kindergarten through third grade.
A new middle school would be needed in Fairview Township to replace a closing New Cumberland school, while remaining buildings would be renovated.
The modify option calls for making the elementary schools K-4 grades, building an intermediate school, renovating Allen Middle School, building the Fairview middle school and renovating the remaining buildings.
The consolidate option would maintain a K-5 elementary structure, Allen would become an elementary school, Cedar Cliff High School would become a middle school alongside Crossroads Middle School, which would be renovated. Red Land High School would become the only high school in the district.
Whatever the outcome, Stoltz said, West Shore will have a few more vacant buildings that could go the way of the former Lemoyne Middle School, which is being sold to an affiliate of the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. for future mixed-use redevelopment.
"We are mindful of where vacant properties will be and what might become of them," he said. "The redevelopment of Lemoyne will be a benefit to the community. It will take a non-taxable property and put it on the tax rolls."
Stoltz expects the school board will decide in May on one of the remaining two options left after Thursday's meeting. From there, the district would start working with architects and contractors about school designs and construction timelines.
District officials will discuss the potential costs of the remaining two options on Thursday, including how the district proposes to pay for the improvements.
It is likely, however, that the district will need to consider property-tax increases, at least small increases, over several years to pay off a long-term bond issue for the construction. West Shore also has a capital reserve that it can tap to help cover some of the annual debt payments, officials said.
That reserve is about $8.9 million right now, but $3.5 million has been earmarked for a boiler replacement project this year at Cedar Cliff.
Stoltz said there is concern about state legislation to eliminate school property taxes and how that might limit the district's ability to fund these facility projects. However, he said the district is not in a spot to delay.
"There might be phasing," he said.