West Newton Elementary's future remains unsettled
More than 100 Yough School District parents and students packed an auditorium Tuesday to hear a planning firm's recommendation on the fate of West Newton Elementary School.
Mark A. Trimbur, an associate with Hayes Large Architects of Pittsburgh, told the school board that closing that building and relocating its students to Mendon Elementary in South Huntingdon Township and H.W. Good Elementary in Herminie is feasible.
The enrollment at West Newton Elementary is 202 students, grades K through four.
"There are a lot of other considerations and a lot of intangibles that every district has to consider in confronting this decision, but overall I think it is possible," said Trimbur. "You could have two (elementary) buildings. There is a falling population that has freed up some space. The district is not so large, so most of the traveling distances are manageable."
The district hired Hayes Large -- at a cost of just under $5,000 -- to perform a feasibility study after a public hearing on the proposed school closing in March. District officials estimated that closing the 41-year-old school would save about $600,000. At that time, the board anticipated a $1.26 million deficit for 2007-08, but has since trimmed that to $585,000.
Trimbur said additional space within the district's facilities was created when population declined at the middle school level and the plans for full-day kindergarten failed to materialize.
Trimbur also said the district's $600,000 cost-savings projection is realistic.
He said Yough's projected growth for K-4 in the next 10 years is less than the current enrollment.
Gregg Nogy, of West Newton, who won a nomination for school board director last week, said he is disappointed that educators and child psychologists were not involved in the study.
"All that was presented tonight was logistics. I feel really disappointed, like I was lied to," said Nogy. "You did a fantastic job of presenting logistics, but that's not what this is all about."
Nogy said the study failed to consider the 150 homes projected to be built in Sewickley Township valued at $300,000 to $400,000.
Trimbur, however, said it takes years for school enrollment figures to reflect population growth from new housing starts.
"I just have one thing to say," said Tiffany Bacha, a resident of West Newton. "If you're not 100 percent confident that this is in the best interest of our children, and you're not going to save $600,000, and you can guarantee me that in two years you're not going to need the space, then you must keep it open."
Nogy said Families Against School Closings will continue its fight should the board decide to close the school.
"I'm not ruling out any legal action we as a citizens group would be willing to take if we get a 'yes' vote to close the school," Nogy said.
The board must wait at least 90 days after the March 9 hearing before making a decision on the elementary school.
Board President Linda Knor said a $26.2 million tentative budget proposed for 2007-08, which included a 4.93-mill property tax increase, does not reflect closing the school.