CVSD considers building updates

Members of the Conewago Valley school community offered their feedback on possible district upgrades during a community forum on Monday as the school board continues to weigh options for building updates.

The district began working with Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates in 2021 to gather data and map possible scenarios.

CVSD

Four options are currently on the table:

The district could decide to upgrade each school but defer any new construction projects.

A single K-3 school could be constructed to combine the two current elementary school populations, with the other schools receiving renovations.

Alternatively, a new K-1 school could be built, with New Oxford Elementary receiving upgrades and hosting only grades 2-3. The other buildings would be renovated except for Conewago Township Elementary, which would be left empty. The board could choose to hold onto the property or sell it.

The board could also decide to defer any renovations or construction, though outdated buildings, security concerns and projected increases in enrollment may prompt the board to choose one of the above three options.

Before it makes a decision, the board is weighing several factors: the costs of each option and the necessary tax increases to help fund them, the need to upgrade school security, life expectancy of aging facilities, whether it will have enough space – or too much wasted space – when accounting for future enrollment, and more.

Anthony Colestock, a senior project manager with Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, presented the firm’s findings. Colestock incorporated the firm’s own cost estimates, tentative timelines and scenarios along with projected enrollment data from a third party, Decision Insite.

Colestock said the three renovation and construction scenarios were whittled down from an original list of about nine ideas.

Colestock primarily focused on the elementary schools.

“A couple of things very important is addressing future enrollment growth, addressing any deficiencies in the building codes with your current facilities, and also making the spaces equitable for the students,” Colestock said. “So, in the elementary level in the K-3, making sure that kids that go to one elementary school have the same opportunities and experiences that students in the other elementary school have.”

Colestock said enrollment projections have recently increased as students begin to return to the schools after leaving earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the latest data points to an average increase of 260 students by 2027.

Largely because of that, the newest projection adds 331 students to the declining enrollment initially estimated by Decision Insite in 2021.

Most of the projected incoming students would be in the elementary grades, according to Coleman.

The age of the buildings is another consideration.

Coleman showed the audience photos taken from each of the schools. They showed outdated flooring and cracked tiles, a lack of ADA-compliant bathroom fixtures, moisture concerns, narrow plumbing trenches that are difficult to access for repairs, and more.

“The photos that we show and these deficiencies that we are going to point out, it’s not meant to be an insult,” Coleman said. “It’s not meant to say that your school is any lesser than another school or that your children aren’t getting a quality education. It’s just to note the age of the building and certain things that are past their life expectancy.”

New Oxford Elementary School is the oldest building, constructed in 1954.

Conewago Township Elementary and New Oxford High School are only a bit younger as both were built in 1958.

Coleman said the average age of schools in the United States is 40 years.

New Oxford Middle School was constructed in 1974.

Conewago Valley Intermediate School, the newest building, was built in 2004 and is now nearly 20 years old.

With the exception of CVIS, each building has received at least one renovation or addition, according to Colestock.

The first option Colestock presented, renovating each of the buildings, would cost between $74.1 million and $84.3 million.

The second choice, of renovating some buildings and building one new elementary school, would likely have a price tag between $103.8 million to $111.9 million.

The third option would cost somewhere between $89.4 million and $98.2 million.

Coleman cautioned that the estimates will change as the board fine tunes its choices, adding that the estimates do not include site construction costs for CTE and NOE and new construction. They also don’t factor in the option of adding sprinklers to the current elementary schools.

Bradley Remig, a representative of PFM Financial Advisors, said the first option with renovations only would roughly equal a millage rate of 1.467. The second option would come to a millage equivalent of about 2.3186 to take on the new debt.

No millage equivalency was provided for the third option.

Remig said that should the board decide on a path forward, PFM will help determine how debt could be gradually added on rather than taken on at tonce.

As the meeting opened, Superintendent Sharon Perry said she feels the district must take some form of action.

“Our maintenance and our buildings and grounds crew have done the very best that they can do with our school facilities for the amount of years that they have been updated,” Perry said. “We are now officially at the point that we need to begin taking a very serious look at the future of each of our facilities.”

Community concerns

Following the presentation, members of the community were allowed to submit their questions.

Matthew Muller, the district’s head of security, read questions submitted online. Several individuals voiced their thoughts in person.

Perry asked the community to continue to offer input as the district evaluates the different scenarios.

“This is really exciting times for us in Conewago Valley School District,” Perry said. “We know that the money signs are large and we are truly at a pinnacle point here where our aging facilities are going to require us to do something. So we’re all keenly aware of that. It’s just what direction do we believe is going to be the best 20-year decision for our future Colonials.”

Some audience members sought more detail on the projected enrollment data, with some indicating they felt the large influx of retirees rather than younger families might inflate enrollment projections. A few also pointed to the country’s decline in birth rates. One individual noted that the number of homeschooled students in the country is also increasing and may affect the number of future school enrollments.

Others worried about the financial burden of the renovations and potential construction, concerned that, paired with inflation, seniors would be forced out of their homes by rising taxes intended to pay for the upgrades.

Some criticized the lack of a representative from Decision Insite as they wanted to further study the factors the firm used to create the enrollment projections.

Coleman addressed most of the concerns, with district leadership responding to the remaining questions.

Perry said the district hopes to create a list of frequently asked questions and the district’s responses to them. The list would be published on the district website.

The board will hold another meeting on Monday, March 6 to further discuss the district’s options.

Prior to that, the board will interview candidates for a new representative for Region 2 to fill a board vacancy.

Interviews will be held at 6 p.m. Monday and the board study session will be held at 7 p.m., according to the district website. Both will be held in the cafeteria of New Oxford Elementary School.

According to Perry, the board will discuss the options presented to it but no vote will be held during that meeting.

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Imari Scarbrough is a freelance journalist. She was a staff newspaper reporter for five years before becoming a freelancer in 2017. She has written on crime, environmental issues, severe weather events, local and regional government and more.

You can visit her website at ImariJournal.com.

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