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Moon Area contends with vacant elementary school spaces

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When the Moon Area School Board voted in 2008 to move fifth-graders from the district's five elementary schools to the middle school, they “kicked the can down the road,” said school board member Jeffrey Bussard, who voted against the measure.

With fifth-graders in their second year at the middle school, the district is at a point where it must deal with the issues of vacant elementary school classrooms and needed renovations at those buildings.

On Monday, nearly 100 residents of Moon and Crescent turned out to give the school board and Moon Area administrators ideas on what should be done with the elementary schools. Rob Pillar of Stantec Architects gave several options, with projected costs:

• Maintain all five elementary schools, at a cost of $34.7 million to renovate Allard and Hyde and upgrade Brooks' utility systems, with a $1.67 million increase in the district's budget. Allard, built in 1968, and Hyde, built in 1971, never have been renovated. Brooks was built in 1965 as the Western Hills School and renovated in 1995.

• Close Allard, Hyde and Brooks elementary schools, keeping only Bon Meade and McCormick open and adding on to both with renovations to McCormick. The cost would be $22.8 million, but the district's budget could drop by $348,000 with fewer buildings to run.

• Close Allard and Brooks and keep Bon Meade, McCormick and Hyde at a cost of $17.2 million for renovations to additions to McCormick and Hyde. The budget savings could be $576,291. Pillar explained that Hyde's advantages over Allard are more land for expansion and gas service. Allard is all-electric.

• Keep open Bon Meade, Brooks and McCormick, at a cost of $20.6 million for renovations to Brooks and additions and renovations to McCormick. This option would mean closing Allard and Hyde, and a $331,000 budget decrease.

• Close Allard, at a cost of $26 million for renovations to Hyde and Brooks, resulting in a $574,000 budget increase.

• Close only Brooks and sell it, at a cost of $24.2 million for renovations to Allard, renovations and additions to Hyde, and additions to McCormick. This move would mean a budget increase of $415,000 annually.

After Pillar gave the scenarios, people broke into groups to brainstorm cost-effective ways to use classroom space better, and talk about possible school consolidations and the best use of any money saved through improved efficiency.

“The district hasn't even tried to redistrict,” said Moon resident Jennifer Broderick, whose children once attended Allard, a suggestion several groups made.

Mike Baker of Moon, who questioned Stantec's figures, said children would spend more time than necessary on buses if schools were closed.

Beth Feather of Moon suggested renting space to community groups.

Residents suggested using empty rooms for laboratories or expanding libraries. They expressed concerns about increased class sizes and decreases in property values in neighborhoods that no longer would have an elementary school.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer.

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