The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 13, 2014

Both sides believe they are right

The Daily Item

— I have lived in Lewisburg for almost 50 years, and sent two children through Lewisburg schools. The controversy over the current plan to abandon the old high school and build a new one has posed considerable strain on both the school district and the community. I am convinced those on both sides of the issue sincerely believe their perspective would be the best for the community and the school district. I do not question motives; in my long experience it is seldom constructive to do so.

I do think, however, that the school board made a couple of errors which could have been avoided. First, it did not give adequate weight to the arguments of those who advocated keeping a school in the borough. They thereby laid itself open to the kind of organized, articulate opposition that they so much wished to avoid. Had it been flexible enough to use the old high school for some sort of school (renovated, of course), all this could have been avoided. The borough is not an expendable part of the community.

A second school board error is being perhaps too optimistic about the costs of the new building. There will always be cost overruns in any major project.  Moreover, the transportation infrastructure in that area is grossly inadequate and will need to be upgraded (foot and bike paths, road-widening, traffic signals). Kelly Township has shown no interest in paying those costs; presumably the school district will have to ante up. I see no way that financing this project will be as painless as we have been told.

A third problem has to do with failing to take adequate account of how the board’s decisions will impact the overall community that has Lewisburg Borough as its core. The board may rightfully reply that this is not part of their mandate, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

All over this country we see the phenomenon of prosperity moving to the suburbs and leaving a depressed city at the core. Lewisburg’s leadership, both the elected government and the business community, have been very proactive in avoiding that fate, so far. But this move constitutes a serious blow, and one that inevitably will affect the suburbs as well. People move here for a number of reasons (including good schools), but among those reasons is surely the presence of a vibrant downtown. And no conceivable use of the abandoned high school property would be as good as having a school there.

Having said all this, I must also say to my friends in the Downtown Dragons, that the train has left the station. Whatever its unanticipated consequences may be, this school is going to be built. Many present supporters of the new school may come to have second thoughts, but it’s too late.

It really will be a pretty nice suburban school, nicer than any conceivable renovation of the old building.  

John Peeler,