Study suggests closing Peebles school in North Allegheny
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The North Allegheny School District is seeing a northward shift in its population center that -- coupled with excess capacity, increasing costs and decreasing state funding -- has prompted a consultant to recommend closing Peebles Elementary School in McCandless.
Jon Thomas of Thomas & Williamson said the closing is recommended in the 2013-14 year.
"McCandless has always been your anchor municipality with the lion's share of the population. What you are seeing here is the changing of the guard," said Mr. Thomas, whose firm was hired by the school board last year to conduct the second phase of a demographics and feasibility study.
The results were presented Aug. 22 to board members.
Data provided in the report showed the population in Franklin Park growing from 3,935 in 1960 to 12,858 in 2010 -- a 227 percent increase. Marshall saw its population grow from 2,538 in 1960 to 6,643 in 2010 -- a 162 percent increase.
These communities will keep growing, Mr. Thomas said, noting that new developments under construction in those municipalities are expected to add approximately 476 students to the district.
Although McCandless also saw growth during the past 40 years, from 14,582 in 1960 to 28,008 in 2010 -- a 92 percent increase -- that town is already built up and any new students there will likely come from older homes being sold to young families. The only major development of new homes in McCandless is a retirement community being built by Vincentian Collaborative Systems. "We don't see you getting many kids out of Vincentian," Mr. Thomas said.
Because of thet growth in the northern area, Mr. Thomas told the board that Bradford Woods Elementary should remain open. The first phase of the demographics and feasibility study, presented last August, recommended closing Peebles and/or Bradford Woods.
Arleen Wheat, assistant superintendent for special education and pupil services, said the program for hearing-impaired students, headquartered at Peebles, could move to Hosack Elementary as other programs have moved throughout the years.
"We've done a lot of those transitions," she said. "I feel very self-assured that the students can be assimilated into Hosack. It's a great school."
Peebles was North Allegheny's first elementary school, built in 1952 and renovated in 1999. It is built almost entirely of wood. "You just can't give it the life cycle that you can give a steel frame building," Mr. Thomas said.
Also, he said, Peebles is landlocked and cannot be expanded and is one mile from Hosack, which has room to expand, if necessary. He acknowledged that it was hard for his firm to recommend closing Peebles because it was renovated in 1999.
Last year's study, conducted by Architectural Innovations and presented to the board by Mark Follen, recommended closing Bradford Woods because of needed renovations. But Mr. Thomas determined that the school did not need as much renovation as last year's report cited -- about $8.3 million rather than $14 million -- and those renovations could be done over 20 years or more.
He also re-estimated the repairs for Marshall Elementary to cost about $11.6 million and the repairs for Marshall Middle School at about $14.9 million. Last year's report estimated repairs of $18.6 million for Marshall Elementary and $27.1 million for Marshall Middle. As with Bradford Woods, all the renovations do not need to be done at the same time, he said.
"This keeps the money in your pocket for the longer period of time," he said. "There is no compelling reason to do a big, large-scale project on any of your buildings."
Superintendent Raymond Gualtieri said the district needs to look at cutting costs because revenue cannot keep pace with expenditures with decreasing state funding.
"The district's budgetary constraints are now a driving factor," he said.
Mr. Thomas recommended that if board members want to move forward with closing Peebles, a public hearing should be held early next year, with formal action in April. Board President Maureen Grosheider said board members have an obligation.
"That obligation encompasses being able to deliver excellent curriculum and instruction," she said. "And that may mean making some difficult decisions in the coming months."
First Published August 30, 2012 5:17 am