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Development may pay for another school

| Sunday, Sept. 14, 2003

Development might allow the Pine-Richland School District to build a $10 million to $15 million fifth- and sixth-grade school without a tax hike, district officials say.

A district facilities committee has recommended that the school be ready for the 2007-08 school year to accommodate growing enrollment and alleviate crowding at its middle school and three elementary schools. Fifth-graders now attend the elementary schools and sixth-graders the middle school.

While officials say money from a less than half-mill tax increase would cover the costs of the new school, Superintendent James Manley estimated that additional revenue from development would be enough to foot the bill.

Manley urged the school board to put the plan for a new school on a fast track. The need to build now will be even greater, he said, if the state requires full-day kindergarten, which would cause further crowding at elementary schools.

If growth does not materialize as quickly as anticipated, "we can always stall the process if we need to," Manley said.

The debt service would be about $600,000 annually for 30 years to pay off a $15 million school, Manley estimated.

A mill is worth $1.4 million. That means the district would need to devote less than a half-mill to construction costs. For the owner of a home assessed at $150,000, a half-mill equals $75.

Residents had a chance to discuss the plans last week at a community forum. About 40 people -- mostly parents -- attended, and none spoke against the new school.

Assistant Superintendent Robert Johnson said the district, which now has 3,894 students, could have up to 5,500 by 2007.

"The development in the area is phenomenal," said builder Angelo Spagnolo, an ad hoc member of the facilities committee.

"Before, when you were talking with people who are interested in coming to the area, they requested Upper Saint Clair, North Allegheny and Mt. Lebanon (schools). We don't hear that anymore. The reputation of Pine-Richland is very good."

Pine Supervisor Ray Hildreth said he expects Pine's population -- now 8,910, according to 2002 U.S. Census estimates -- to double in the next 10 years.

School board member David Breen said he has heard no opposition to the idea of the new school in the growing district.

"I like the fifth-and sixth-grade school idea. It keeps us smaller and takes care of the crowding," said parent Barbara Young, of Richland's Avonlea Estates subdivision.

Melvin Steals also likes the idea of a fifth- and sixth-grade school.

He has been principal at Seneca Valley's Haine Middle School -- which houses fifth- and sixth-graders -- since it opened in 2000.

"This is an ideal situation. It promotes personal growth and development," Steals said about the grade configuration.

"When (fifth- and sixth-graders) are exposed to older kids, you increase the likelihood of tension between grade levels. I have seen that tension and the resulting conflicts. Five-six is a good mixture."

Marlene DiMaria, the mother of a fifth- and sixth-grader at Haine, agreed.

"I think it's wonderful. The students get more independence, and it gets them ready for junior high school," said DiMaria, a secretary at Haine.

"This is a different atmosphere than a K-6 elementary school. It's a great idea for the kids."

Staff writer Dominick DiRienzo contributed to this report.

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