The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 21, 2014

My Turn: School siting should benefit entire community

The Daily Item

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth 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.

While Lewisburg Area School District’s proposed site on Newman Road is appropriate for development, a high school is a bad choice for three main reasons: land use, transportation, and strategic investment — all of which will hurt taxpayers, budgets and learning.  

Land use. The proposed 200-acre campus will produce significant costs (roads, utilities, maintenance, policing and emergency services) but no revenues, jeopardizing the district’s ability to meet its educational budget needs without significant tax increases for LASD residents.

Transportation to the Newman site, as compared to the current high school, is more inefficient, costly and dangerous. Mapping analysis of all high-school age students in the district shows that their population “center” is located in East Buffalo Township’s Linntown neighborhood. LAHS is one-third of a mile from this population center — nearly as perfect for a community-centered facility as any planner could hope for transportation efficiency.  

The Newman site is 1.75 miles from this population center — meaning the average student will travel further and create more traffic, with greater risk to student health and safety. Actuarial data tells us that the most dangerous place for a high-school age person is in a car. Open roads like Newman, as well as nearby Hospital Drive, William Penn Drive and JPM Road, invite riskier driving than gridded traffic patterns with numerous intersections.

Strategic investment. School Board President Kathy Swope has stated that an “optimal minimum” for a high school site is 20 acres. If 20 acres is sufficient, why is LASD building a 200-acre campus? For comparison, the Magic Kingdom at Disney World covers 100 acres. The University of Pittsburgh’s main campus spans 132 acres. Yet LASD has determined we need 200 acres. Reserving a quarter of the land for district use and selling the rest for development would actually transform the property into a revenue generator, which could meet funding needs in a variety of areas, most notably…

Athletics. We agree that sports are an important component of a complete education, and as a parent of two high-school athletes, I understand concerns about facilities. Perhaps the 200 acres are designed to accommodate athletics fields and facilities in the future, if and when funding becomes available. Athletics facilities are not included in the current cost or plans for Newman. (Also, note that we can build a new gym in an expansion of LAHS.)

Let’s look at a new idea: co-use athletic facilities. “Co-use” means fields, courts and other athletics space that could serve both students and members of the community. With targeted investments and partnerships, LASD could achieve better athletics facilities for less money than building at Newman — and they would be integrated into the life of our area.

Co-use is already working. Our football team uses the stadium at Bucknell, which also affords us access to its natatorium and some other fields. We could hardly do better in building our own versions of Division I facilities. Our tennis teams use the courts at St. Mary Park, which is three-quarters of a mile from the high school — but will be functionally closer once the PA House development and sidewalks are in place.

Let’s think creatively and collaboratively. For example, an extension of the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail would benefit area residents and serve as an improved “Safe Routes to School” project. Construction of a Buffalo Valley Recreation Authority indoor recreation facility could serve student-athletes and residents of all ages.

Vacant spaces in the community also deserve another look. The land across Fairground Road from the Farmers’ Market could accommodate a stadium and track, with multi-use fields for football, soccer, and field hockey.  

As a small community, we must invest strategically for the extensive amenities we envision. Developing these facilities in tandem with existing entities will save taxpayers money and allow us to focus our education dollars on education. A decentralized school campus, with schools and athletic facilities integrated into the core community, will reuse vacant land, minimize infrastructure investment, and leverage new partnerships.     

LASD has pursued a suburban school campus off-and-on for 20 years, which has given us time to see how this strategy has played out in other communities. We can learn from these mistakes, or we can repeat them.  

Brian Auman is a landscape architect and community planner. He and his family live in East Buffalo Township. Visit Downtown Dragons on Facebook or at