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Connellsville board moves forward with Zach Connell closing

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 1:27 a.m.

Connellsville Area School Board members have decided to go ahead with the closing of Zachariah Connell Elementary School and make renovations to the former Junior High West building to accommodate those students.

At the feasibility meeting Wednesday night, John Pappas with Eckles Architects, told board members that they had done all they could do as far as moving ahead any further with construction designs to the former junior high building.

“Last month we presented the different options for renovations and last meeting we presented the preliminary cost estimates,” he said. “On our end, we've started the preliminary work that we can do on the design end.”

He added that the architects were looking into drawings and the mechanical and electrical engineer had begun some preliminary work, reviewing different systems in the building.

“We're really moving forward on our end to hit the dates that you have set and tonight, we really need you to solidify the option that you want,” Pappas said.

Director Paul Means brought a motion to the floor to accept Option 3A, which would renovate the former Junior High West building at a cost of approximately $1.5 million.

In Option 3, the kindergarten and first-grade classrooms would be moved to the opposite end of the building from the tech-ed, second and third on the other side of the building in the family consumer science area, and fourth, fifth and sixth grades on the second floor.

Option 3A would be the same as Option 3, except for the inclusion of individual toilets for each of the three first-grade classrooms.

Director Francis Mongell was the only one to vote against the motion.

He said that he has been on the board since 1995 and since that time six of the district's 12 school buildings have been renovated, including the high school, which is under renovations.

“During every renovation, there's a process where certain rules have to be followed and recommendations are made to the board,” Mongell said. “You have to follow all the rules and you have to have a balanced budget before you start the process unless the renovation leads to some type of consolidation that would help balance the budget.

“This project doesn't meet any of that criteria, so (I'll be voting) no for this,” he added.

Sherry Shultz, a parent of a student who attends Zachariah Connell Elementary, is against having the school closed and those students moved to the renovated former junior high next school year.

She suggested, and Mongell agreed, that the district would save more money if they kept Zachariah Connell students where they are and closed Connellsville Township, Dunbar Borough and South Side elementary schools and moved those students to the renovated former junior high.

Director Paul Means said the board already voted earlier this year to close Zachariah Connell and move those students to the former junior high.

“This issue is not about Zach Connell,” he said. “That vote was already taken to close it and now what we need to do is keep moving forward and focus on the project at Junior High West.”

Means added that while Zach Connell is the only building at this point that they have decided to close, the board always has the option at any time in the future to look at other closures.

Rachel Basinger is a freelance writer.

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