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January 19, 2014

Growth surveys at odds

Population estimates guiding new Lewisburg school likely off, official says

LEWISBURG — Projected population growth in Union County, considered when determining the size of a new Lewisburg Area High School, is skewed, says a grassroots group that is fighting plans for a Kelly Township facility that might reach 180,000 square feet.

Union County planning director Shawn McLaughlin might agree with the Downtown Dragons’ assertion that school-age population through 2050 might fall far short of expectations, leaving taxpayers funding a $32 million complex too large for its student body.

Ground is set to be broken in September on a high school that can accommodate 672 students. The Downtown Dragons say the building’s size is based on a 925-pupil population not expected for 36 years.

“When we look carefully, we don’t see evidence for the kind of growth they’re talking about,” said group member Sam Pearson. “We do agree building for growth is a proven idea, but they are currently designing for 48 percent more students.”

Same report, different conclusions

The group and Lewisburg Area Schools Superintendent Mark DiRocco cite the same feasibility study, but arrive at different population conclusions.

“I don’t know where the (Downtown Dragons) are getting their numbers,” said Kathy Swope, president of the Lewisburg school board.

Enrollment of 672 was used to determine the square footage, DiRocco said, “and that is what the high school is designed for.”

The existing high school, built in the late 1920s, covers 110,000 square feet. Some 580 students are enrolled in grades 9-12.

The Downtown Dragons, many of whom would like to see the high school remain within the borough and ideally at its current Market Street location, cite flat enrollment numbers between 2000 and 2010 despite the school-age population rising 10 percent in Union County during that period. The group attributes a bump in enrollment at Kelly Elementary School to the addition of a kindergarten class and pre-kindergarten.

Projected increases in population would include Bucknell University students and inmates at the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg, neither of which attend district schools.

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