Editor’s Note: This is the third of five comments from the Downtown Dragons, a Lewisburg group whose members wish to see the high school remain in the borough. Other topics include school size, financing and the decision-making process.
Why are people still talking about a renovation of Lewisburg Area High School? Because it is feasible, economical and sensible.
Many community members believe renovation and expansion of LAHS would cost more than new construction on Newman Road; that we can’t meet our educational goals there; and that acreage is inadequate. They cite hopeless disrepair, no room for a much-needed expansion, terrible traffic and parking, and poor access to athletics fields.
We understand these concerns. Let’s examine them point by point.
It’s not more expensive. An LASD-commissioned 2010 feasibility study showed that a complete renovation of the current high school (114,000 square feet) and an addition (63,000 square feet) for the same program and number of students (675) proposed for Newman would cost $2.5 million less than what was at the time a 165,000-square-foot proposal at Newman. The plan to redo the existing high school had a capacity of 925 students, according to numbers LASD calculated using PA Department of Education criteria, while the one for Newman cited 1,007 students. Neither price included outdoor athletics facilities.
Educational goals can be achieved. Well-appointed, well-maintained renovated schools deliver the same 21st-century education as new construction. In fact, there’s no evidence that brand-new construction improves educational outcomes. When school budgets support overbuilding at the expense of staff and instructional support, there’s a greater chance that learning will actually suffer rather than improve.
The site size is adequate. The feasibility study states that the downtown site doesn’t meet state acreage requirements. It fails to note, however, that according to the PA Historical and Museum Commission, “In Pennsylvania, acreage allowances are used solely in determining the level of state funding for site acquisition; there are no minimum or maximum acreage requirements actually mandated by state law or regulations for public schools.”
The building shows wear but can be renovated. According to a document entitled “Renovate or Replace?” published by the PA Department of Education and the PA School Boards Association, “The belief that buildings ‘wear out’ is common but wrong.” The feasibility study priced a complete refurbishment. It is not a choice between old and new, but between a first-class facility on an existing site well served by infrastructure and a more expensive facility at Newman with less access to infrastructure.
What about the leaky roof? The portion that wasn’t replaced in 2008 does leak. It could be fixed, but the district has deferred maintenance on the building since 2008, as shown in its Five-Year Planning Document, which lists projects to be completed for all facilities. It excludes completion dates for work needed at the high school. We note that the well-publicized basement leak has been fixed.
What about the traffic? Traffic problems tend to persist when no attempt is made to address them. The feasibility study was charged with solving them exclusively on the school site, but the existing street grid is actually the solution to this problem. Bus traffic could be rerouted so that it loops up Sixth and along St. Louis instead of down Market and onto Dale Alley.
And parking? Parking problems can often be reframed as walking problems. If we work with the borough, students who must drive could use existing parking lots at Hufnagle and off North Fifth and Sixth streets, all of which are underutilized during school hours. Parking spaces at the school would be reserved for staff, visitors, and ADA spaces. Remaining lot spaces could be reserved for students who carpool, or continue to be awarded by lottery.
And construction phasing? The proposed addition is so large in comparison to the existing structure that it would afford ample opportunity for expansion and renovation with limited disruption to the learning environment. The new space could be built outside the footprint of the school during the first academic year. Renovations to a portion of the existing school could be completed over the following summer. In the fall, students would occupy the new and the renovated spaces. During that school year, remaining renovations would be completed.
We’re not forgetting athletics. Sports are an important part of a complete education. Indoor athletics space needs were incorporated in the feasibility study plans along with other extracurricular programs.
Samantha Pearson is a mother, designer and planner who lives in Lewisburg Borough. Visit Downtown Dragons on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org.