Moon Area could swap schools

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Moon Area School District’s focus on a possible reconfiguration of its five elementary buildings may be the answer to a prayer for Rhema Christian School, because with current enrollment at 215 students and climbing the private school is rapidly outgrowing its location at the former Pleasant View Elementary.

On Monday night, Moon Area superintendent Curt Baker provided five “administrative options” to be considered as part of an elementary capital improvement program requested by directors because of aging elementary facilities and empty or poorly utilized classroom space. Four of these five alternatives include the closure of J.H. Brooks Elementary.

“Creative financing is as important as creative structure,” Mr. Baker said. “At some point we’ll have to winnow it down.”

Mr. Baker’s suggestions include a proposed swap of the Brooks site for the Rhema location. The two properties abut near the corner of Coraopolis Heights and Hassam roads in Moon.

The swap could allow for renovations at J. A. Allard, R. Hyde elementaries and Rhema, closure of Brooks and K-4 programming to remain as is. Projected cost is $22.109 million.

In another scenario, he suggests the swap resulting in renovations for Allard, Hyde and Rhema plus an expansion at McCormick. This would push the district to have a K-2 and 3-4 grade level alignment. Rhema would be converted to a “parent pays” early childhood center and a professional development school affiliated with Robert Morris University. Cost for this option is estimated at $29.535 million.

The public and private schools have both toured each other’s facilities and Rhema has shown interest in the proposal.

Brooks was built in 1965 and last renovated in 1995. It has eight empty classrooms and at least one considered to be poorly utilized.

Another idea broached by Mr. Baker allows for a new roof and upgrades to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems at Brooks, while converting these spare rooms to a pre-kindergarten program paid for by parents. This option calls for renovations at Allard and Hyde and is estimated to cost $34.716 million.

Also calculated around $34.716 million, is a proposal including renovations to Allard, Hyde and Brooks and the conversion of Hyde into an early childhood center and professional development school. Grade level alignments of K-2 and 3-4 would be adopted.

For approximately $24.535 million, the district could renovate Allard and Hyde, expand McCormick, close Brooks and switch to a K-2 and 3-4 grade level alignment.

“It’s not necessarily good or bad, but you would have a greater stability in terms of class size,” Mr. Baker said of the proposed grade level realignment.

Swapping locations with Rhema is something public board directors will have to consider over the coming months. A final vote as to the fate of the elementary buildings will be decided in June.

Purchased from Moon Area in 1997 for $350,000, Rhema’s location offers instruction for preschool through grades 8. The private Christian institution opened its doors in 1980 and had outgrown locations in Hopewell and Findlay before settling in Moon.

In July 2012, Moon Area directors requested a feasibility study and enrollment projection be commissioned. Stantec Architecture and Engineering performed the study and provided six options for the district in August, 2013. These initial options raised concern from residents in Crescent and Moon who are unhappy with the possibility of redistricting and the suggestion to shutter as many as three elementary buildings.

Estimates provided by Stantec for a scenario in which all five schools would remain open and Hyde, Allard and Brooks would be renovated came in at around $34.716 million.

No matter which of the 11 options are chosen, the odds of redistricting will be “exceedingly high,” according to Mr. Baker, who said he has “no advocacy for any of the proposals at this time.”

Both Stantec’s and Mr. Baker’s presentations, as well as, enrollment projection numbers, video of public informational sessions and upcoming schedules are available on the district’s website

In keeping with the “transparent process” Mr. Baker wants throughout the procedure, the “path forward [will have] an information sharing approach.”

Meetings with opportunity for topical public comment are being scheduled for Jan. 27, Feb. 10 and 24.

On March 3, the district will post the final recommendation being pursued by directors.

A public hearing on the matter will be set for March 10 and the final board decision will be made on June 23. General public comment will be allowed during these final two meetings.

A moderator will be used throughout to keep meetings on task.

Sonja Reis, freelance writer:

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