The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 9, 2013

A school too far

— Does the Lewisburg High School on Market Street need significant renovations to keep pace with the rapid advancements of modern education?

Yes, it does.

Is building a new high school on 200 acres of farmland next to a federal maximum security prison the best solution?

No, it is not.

While the idea of a brand new sprawling facility over 200 acres seems appealing, the disadvantages of a new school on Newman Road have not been presented by the LASD.  

Instead of abandoning our downtown high school in the hope, or fantasy, that it will be renovated and maintained by some new entity, let’s explore an alternate plan.

Reuse or sale of other recently closed area schools has not been very successful and there is no evidence that students in new buildings have higher test scores.  Lewisburg students, when compared with national averages, score very well. Good job!

In July of 2010, a group of well-versed, concerned citizens presented an alternate plan (referred to as Option C) which would move administrative offices and grades 3 through 5 from Linntown-Eichorn buildings to the current high school and convert the Linntown/Eichhorn complex to a middle/high school campus.  

The Newman farm in Kelly Township could then be sold to raise revenue to offset renovation expenses or the farmland could be preserved in Union County’s Farmland Preservation Program, or could be used for environmental education to show how the LASD board rose to the occasion to preserve farmland and expand education facilities within the community.

The Linntown Plan benefits taxpayers, residents, the community and our children.

Attending a downtown school develops a child’s sense of community, a familiarity with their town, a feeling of independence, and a camaraderie with fellow students that will be lost if they are bused outside of town.

The Linntown property is large enough to exercise this option and there is already a functioning infrastructure in place.

At the Kelly Township site, new water lines or wells, sewer extensions, natural gas pipes, electricity lines, and internet-telephone cables would all need to be installed.  These additional but far from insignificant costs have not been realistically considered — perhaps one million dollars, or more.

Storm water retention systems will be crucial in converting 200 acres of farm land to impervious buildings with enough parking for hundreds of vehicles.  All students, teachers and other employees will need transportation there.  

Another consideration with this more remote location is the increased costs and response time for police, ambulance and firefighters.  

Consider the upgraded roads, storm sewers, utilities, snow removal, road signs, and the electricity for street and traffic lights for about a thousand vehicle trips daily on Newman Road. How much of these costs will be paid for by Kelly Township residents?  

As of my last conversation with a Kelly Township supervisor, no one from the LASD has discussed with Kelly Township officials the impact re-zoning, traffic control, and storm water runoff will have.

Nor has the Lewisburg Borough mayor, the Lewisburg Council or the planning committee been contacted regarding “repurposing” — a palatable-sounding term for figuring out what to do with abandoned buildings.

LASD Superintendent Mr. DiRocco suggests that there will be no tax increase resulting from the building of a new high school, a sports complex, and the development of 200 acres of land. Is this really believable?  

Although the infrastructure costs to Kelly Township residents have not been addressed, the question should certainly be asked.  

So far it’s not a done deal but we’d better start asking pertinent questions before ground is broken.

Teen-age drivers, scores of buses, traffic lights, bumper-to-bumper vehicles twice a day, the lights and noise associated with athletic events are all very real possibilities.

Athletic fields have been a driving force on where to locate the high school. Is it not better to bus fewer students to athletic events occasionally than to bus everyone every day to a remote high school?

To abandon any building to erect structures outside of town on prime farmland is contrary to all modern planning principles, Smart Growth strategy, and Green-efficient building policies. Sprawl does not work and is wasteful of human, financial, and natural resources.

If planners and administrators at Bucknell University can see the value in restoring not one but four old buildings in downtown Lewisburg, why don’t the LASD officials share that same vision?

The LASD should abandon the Newman Plan, not the current high school.  

Let’s not allow this to happen without asking the hard questions and considering all options wisely, equally, and realistically.

Implementing the Linntown Option is best for the community, all residents of the LASD, and most of all, it is the best option for the children.

Mike Molesevich has been a resident of the LASD since 1979, a former mayor and councilmember of Lewisburg Borough, and is an environmental consultant for commercial real estate transactions, remediation, and brownfield redevelopment.