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Parents to make last-ditch effort to save Bovard Elementary School

| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 12:18 a.m.

Parents of students attending the 35-year-old Bovard Elementary School in Hempfield Area School District will make a last-ditch attempt on Monday to persuade school directors not to close the building.

The school board will meet with parents at 6:30 p.m. in the school.

The board scheduled a vote on Nov. 19 on Bovard's fate, but Superintendent Andy Leopold said he will recommend that school directors delay a decision until soil tests on samples taken from the Bovard site are analyzed.

The district said the cost of renovating or replacing Bovard is expensive because the ground beneath the school is honey-combed with abandoned coal mines.

The school was built on more than two dozen caissons to make the structure stable and prevent mine subsidence, according to engineering reports.

“Though there have been no documented reports of subsidence or subsidence damage to the building or site, there is suspicion locally that a risk exists,” the 2011 study by Foreman Architects and Engineers said.

A feasibility study in 2000 estimated the cost of renovating Bovard between $5 million and $6 million. Additional studies were completed in 2007 and last year.

The district estimates it will start the 2013-14 school year with a nearly $3 million deficit.

Bovard parents have questioned why Bovard Elementary needs to be renovated.

“I've never seen what needs to be fixed,” said Tammie Lyons, who has two sons attending Bovard and a daughter entering kindergarten next year.

“The school doesn't need renovated,” said Kellie Nagy, president of the Bovard PTO. “It's perfectly safe for our students.”

Leopold said Bovard needs a new roof and windows, and its electric heating systems need to be replaced. It would have to conform with construction standards under the Americans with Disability Act, which would include installing an elevator.

“We never said the building can't be renovated,” said Assistant Superintendent Barbara Marin. “Our recommendation to the board is to hold off voting until we get the core analysis. We want to make sure we look at everything.”

Closing Bovard could lead to overcrowding in other schools, parents said.

“If Bovard closes, every single elementary school will have four out of five grades increase in class size,” Nagy said. “I don't think families who have kids in other elementary schools know what effect the closing of Bovard will have on other schools.”

Nagy said the population in Bovard has increased by 20 percent during the past five years and is projected to grow as development continues in the former coal mining town.

“It's crazy to even consider closing a school that has potential for a lot of growth,” said parent Katie Dingler. “Why close a school and have every elementary school at maximum capacity?”

Parent Sean Sieg said Maxwell and Bovard schools finished first and second, respectively, in reading, writing, math and science scores out of the six elementary schools in the district. He said that's because classes are small, and teachers have time to help struggling students.

“You can't cram students in other schools, especially when enrollment is increasing,” Sieg said.

Leopold and Marin said there is sufficient space to keep classroom size capped at 23 for kindergarten and the first and second grades. Grades 3, 4 and 5 will be capped at 26.

If the school board votes to close Bovard, students will be transferred to Maxwell or West Point elementary schools.

To make room at those schools for incoming Bovard students, students at Maxwell and West Point might have to move to other elementary schools.

District officials expect to save $1.1. million to $1.3 million by closing the school.

The closing has been a touchy political issue during the past several years.

The prior school board considered closing Bovard but backed off because four members were up for re-election. Three of the incumbents lost.

The current board faces the same political dilemma. Directors Sonya Brajdic, Diane Ciabattoni, Robert McDonald and Joe Lutz face re-election next year.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at

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