Few speak up in opposition to 'mega-elementary' in Penn Hills

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Few speak up in opposition to 'mega-elementary' in Penn Hills

Post  HopefulInPh on Thu Apr 01, 2010 1:09 am

Few speak up in opposition to 'mega-elementary' in Penn Hills

By Tony LaRussa
Thursday, April 1, 2010

Buzz up!

The Penn Hills school board Tuesday laid the groundwork to close and demolish Dible Elementary School, where a new 1,900-student "elementary center" will be built in time for the start of the 2012-13 school year.

The school board also conducted a public hearing on the nearly $98 million high school it plans to build. The high school, elementary center and renovations to the middle school will cost about $130 million.

Despite public opposition to consolidating the district's four neighborhood grade schools into a 187,500-square foot elementary center, the state-mandated public hearing drew only a handful of residents, of whom only two commented.

By law, the board must wait at least 90 days before it can vote to close Dible.

Resident Mary Jane Geminetti asked the board to consider the difficulty Dible students will face when they are moved to another school during construction.

"We would like answers before the 90 days about who our principal will be, who all the other staff members are," she said. "This is a community at Dible. It's important to keep that community feeling for these kids."

School officials said the district still is working on its staff reassignment plan, but would likely complete it before voting.

The district's decision to go from four elementary schools to one "mega-elementary," as many have dubbed it, has drawn the ire of some residents. They worry it will create, not address, concerns about academic achievement.

Of the 43 school districts in Allegheny County, Penn Hills will be the first with more 2,300 students to have a single grade school.

Another public hearing Tuesday drew four residents to hear architectural details and the financing plan for the 277,000-square-foot high school. A public hearing in October was ruled invalid by the state because the district advertised it in local newspapers for only 17 days instead of the required 20.

Resident Ed Zullo was the only resident who opposed the project, noting that Penn Hills residents already are responsible for carrying the seventh-highest debt load of any municipality in the state.

School officials responded that the bulk of the debt is not owed by the district and that the construction will not result in a tax increase.

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