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Colfax Upper Elementary in Springdale to remain open

| Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 12:51 a.m.

The Allegheny Valley School Board has decided it will no longer explore closing Colfax Upper Elementary School.

Instead, school officials will seek contract bids to replace or repair the elementary school's roof. The school board voted 5-4 on Monday to stop studying the option of closing the Springdale school, which houses about 220 children in fourth through sixth grades.

Board President Larry Pollick said the board thought it was a good time to stop the study that it ordered Superintendent Cheryl Griffith to perform.

“For six months we've had our administration gather information; we had public meetings at our schools and walked through the buildings,” said Pollick, who voted to end the process. “At that time, questions and answers were provided to the best ability.

“After that time, we decided it was time to see where the majority of the board stood,” he said. “At this time, the board decided the best way to serve the district was to leave the school open.”

According to the board's original plans, the study was to be presented at special meetings from April through this month. The last step in the process was for surveys to be mailed to district residents to gauge their opinion on whether to keep the school open.

“The most frustrating thing was, the process was not followed through to completion,” said board member Steve Puskar, who wanted to continue the study. “I personally would have been OK with whatever the majority would have been if we would have received all the information.

“We have a responsibility to do what's fiscally responsible and still provide a strong education to our students.”

“What message does this send?” he added. “That we'll have a process and if we don't like the way the process is going, we'll stop it.”

The dilemma of whether to keep Colfax open isn't new. The district commissioned a study in 2004 to see what its options were with the school.

That study claimed that the district would bleed students over the next decade, and it held true.

In 2004, the district's enrollment was about 1,200 students.

Today it is 1,009, according to the Department of Education.

The Leechburg Area School District is the only Alle-Kiski Valley district with fewer students.

The portions of Griffith's report that were presented at earlier meetings, and are shared on the district's website, show that there are many unused or under-utilized classrooms at the district's Acmetonia Primary School in Harmar, and at Springdale High School.

Had Colfax closed, students from that school would have been sent to Acmetonia or the high school.

Puskar said part of the concern was over adding younger students to the high school building.

“Public sentiment was less against closing the building and more an expression of where the grade levels go,” Puskar said. “We could have accommodated the public concern and reconfigured the grades responsibly.”

Griffith said she had no opinion one way or another as to whether to keep Colfax open.

But she did say that adding younger students to the high school building wouldn't affect their learning.

“There's a lot of different grade level configurations educators use to can plan good programs,” she said. “They can meet the needs of students in any building; that's my opinion.”

Regardless of the numbers, Pollick said enrollment wasn't a deciding factor in the decision.

“If we close a building, it won't be because of enrollment,” he said. “I can see in my mind that there will be a steady increase in enrollment. This is a wonderful place to live.”

Puskar said the district previously looked into replacing the roof of the school, and that isn't the only upgrade the building needs.

“It was going to cost $790,000 (a few years ago) to replace the roof,” he said. “Once you open Pandora's Box, people are going to say ‘well we replaced the roof, we might as well keep going.'

“Some of the windows fall out,” he claimed. “The fire alarm isn't even connected to the local fire department, so if there's a fire and there isn't anyone in that building, no one will know.”Pollick said the district has$1 million left over from a bond it used to finance the recent $18.7 million renovation to Springdale High School, and would use that money to replace the roof.

“We obviously don't send students into unsafe buildings,” Pollick said. “This was built in 1974; this isn't one of those unsafe old buildings.

“Like any home that gets older, it needs regular care.”

Puskar said he worries about the ramifications of keeping the school open in a district that, according to the Colfax study, is $35 million in debt.

“All of this and knowing your enrollment is (almost) below 1,000 kids,” he said. “You don't need that building.

“What we did was not fiscally responsible.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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