Ambridge Area school administrators plan to release comments and suggestions submitted from the public over the past month regarding the district’s future.
Superintendent Cynthia Zurchin said Wednesday that feedback has come in through various avenues, and school officials are inspired to have people providing their thoughts and suggestions.
At the heart of the conversation is whether the district should renovate the junior high school—which school officials estimate will cost $5 million or more—or sell the building and transition 7th and 8th grades to the high school.
“We will be compiling that information and we will be presenting that to you at a future date,” Zurchin said, adding that "there is no decision that is going to be made at this time."
"This is the beginning of a conversation so we’re just starting the process,” she said.
Board members and administrators have said a proposal to close the junior high is part of a broader focus to balance academic success and economic stability in the district.
School board president Mary Jo Kehoe said she wanted to clarify that the district isn’t looking to sell the ball fields at the junior high site, something she said has been rumored.
“We’re not selling the ball fields. I wouldn’t vote to sell the ball fields,” Kehoe said.
Board member Roger Kowal said he received 134 emails in favor of keeping the junior high open. He said he has many questions that still need to be answered regarding lay offs, class sizes, busing, athletics, repair costs and other issues.
"All these things need to be addressed and I don't think we can do it in a month," he said.
Several parents who addressed the board raised similar concerns, questioning what will happen with the junior high teachers, bus transportation and Anthony Wayne and Ridge Road schools.
David Kozak of Economy warned of a "mass exodus" in the district if the junior high is closed, and suggested making fixes at the building little by little.
“We already pay the highest taxes in the county. Let’s give us something back for our money instead of taking something away,” he said.
Jennifer Setzenfand of Economy told the board a petition being circulated is requesting at least 18 months of research be completed before a decision. She said more than 500 concerned residents have come together over social media.
“The sleeping bear has been poked and we are not going to hibernate ever again,” Setzenfand said.
In addressing questions over Anthony Wayne, Kehoe said two feasibility studies that were performed showed "astronomical" costs to bring the school up to code, about $8 million to $10 million. The building is not handicapped-accessible and would require the installation of an elevator, among other necessities, she said.
Solicitor Lisa Colautti said there is also a moratorium on state funding, or PlanCon, which used to be available to reimburse school districts undertaking major construction projects a portion of the costs.
Kehoe said neighboring Quaker Valley was able to use the former elementary school under an emergency plan from the state during their middle school renovation project in 2011-12.
Last year, she said a board committee looked at reconfiguration that would have grouped K-2, 3-4 and 5-6 students in separate school buildings, but parents quickly extinguished that idea.
“Unfortunately, whatever we end up doing is not going to make everybody happy,” Kehoe said.
A plan is expected to be presented at the June 18 board meeting.
In other business, the board approved an $87,190 contract with Duquesne-based Huckestein Mechanical Service Inc. to continue providing preventative maintenance services, including parts and labor, at the district’s five school buildings. The director of facilities resigned last month and had been doing some of the work.
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