Dover Area district explores new high school

Alyssa Jackson
  • Dover Area School District has begun to look into building a new high school.
  • No decisions have been made yet, but committees are forming to present the school board with info.
  • The potential new high school would replace the current middle school, which has several problems.

Dover Area School District officials are looking into the possibility of building a new high school, a move that caused some confusion at a recent board meeting among community members who thought the project already had been approved.

Superintendent Ken Cherry said talks of building a new school have been going on for years, but now the district is at a point financially where officials can start to consider the details, including what it might cost.

The district is looking into demolishing the intermediate school and replacing it with a new high school. The intermediate school students then would move to the existing high school, with some renovations occurring there, too.

There has been no concrete decision made by the school board to build a new school.

"We're really just in the planning process," Cherry said. "We've made no formal commitment to the building. There's no bulldozers pulling up tomorrow."

During the July 19 school board meeting, Cherry asked the board to approve the development of a design team and an advertisement for interested architects to send their qualifications to the district. The design team would work with the architect to come up with a rough idea of what the school could look like so the cost of the project can be discussed.

Six board members agreed to the creation of a design team and the advertisement, but board member Charles Rauhauser voted no to both. In a later interview, Rauhauser said he is not opposed to anything at the moment, but he is worried about what the project could mean for the senior citizen community. He said many senior citizens struggle to pay their taxes.

"We just need more information on our figures," Rauhauser said. "I know a lot of people in my age group who are opposed to it."

John Peters, a resident in the school district, addressed the board, saying he was concerned about the amount of money the construction would cost taxpayers.

"I'm opposed to the new building of the high school at this time," Peters began. He went on to explain that he was unsure if the new building was necessary and was concerned taxes would be raised to help pay for the building.

Facilities, safety and technology manager David Nelson talks about the improvements and expansions needed at Dover Area Intermediate School in Dover, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Cherry said if the district moves forward with building a new school, officials will do everything in their power to minimize the monetary impact on taxpayers.

"The goal is to really ensure that we hold our taxpayers harmless for this project," he said.

The need: Peters said he also was unsure if there was a need for the intermediate school to be updated, but Cherry and David Nelson, the district manager for facilities, safety and technology, say there most certainly is.

According to Nelson, most of the intermediate school has not been updated since it was built in the 1960s. Children in wheelchairs or on crutches are not able to get to the second floor because there's no elevator, he said, and although the front entrance of the school does have a ramp and one small handicap-accessible door, it's not nearly as accessible as he'd like it to be.

Ashley Glatfelter, a seventh-grade English teacher at the intermediate school, said students in second-floor classes who are on crutches or in wheelchairs have to change their entire schedule, attend different classes or work in the library to learn.

Teaching in the 21st century is another problem for educators in this building, according to Lauren Nolan, the eighth-grade pre-algebra teacher in the intermediate school.

Nelson and Cherry agreed, pointing out that most classrooms only have one or two outlets, yet the school will implement a one-to-one program for kids in seventh grade and above in the coming school year. All students in seventh grade and above will have their own iPads to use at home and at school for work. Each fifth- and sixth-grader also will get an iPad but will only use it in school. It's hard to use the technology in the classroom if they can't charge it.

"We're fortunate to have iPads and Apple TVs," Nolan said. "But we need to have an updated building to use the technology to its fullest."

Another major concern for the intermediate school is overcrowding, according to Nelson. The school has six outdoor classrooms, which are essentially small buildings that sit right outside the main building. During the winter months, Neson said, the walkways to the rooms and the rooms themselves are cold.

Two of six modular classrooms are shown at Dover Area Intermediate School in Dover, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Because of the school's age, a lot of the classrooms have tiles made of asbestos. Nelson said the tiles are not a danger unless they begin chipping or dusting, and the school takes several measures to ensure the safety of the children. Each year the floors are waxed, and throughout the year they are constantly checked, including once each year by a professional. These added expenses wouldn't be necessary with a new school, he said. For Nelson, replacing the school is the way to go.

"I think what they're doing is the right move," he said. "That's just my thought."

A full list of the outdated problems with the intermediate school can be found at the end of this article.

Funding and planning: Cherry said there's been a lot of confusion in the community regarding the possible project. Many people have assumed that the district is moving forward with the construction, when in reality officials are just hoping to get a better sense of the best option. No matter what, Cherry said, it's clear the intermediate school needs to be updated.

"Even in my initial analysis of the district when I was getting hired, I did say I was concerned about the intermediate school," he said.

Dover Area has submitted PlanCon A, which is an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, through which districts can apply to the state for reimbursement for building projects. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the paperwork filed through PlanCon for reimbursement helps document the process, provide justification and establish the level of reimbursement.

Cherry said he felt it was best to use PlanCon reimbursement for the intermediate school because it was the school that needed the most attention and thus would give them the "most bang for their buck." He said they have PlanCon money coming back to them soon for previous projects.

In addition, Cherry said money in the school's capital reserve, which is a type of account that can be used for long-term investment projects, could be used if the district decides to move forward. The school can look for the best window of opportunity to combine old debt and new debt into more favorable payment terms, he said.

Again, Cherry stressed the idea is in the planning stages and things could change. Despite the options he says are available, some people still aren't convinced.

"I don't know what we're going to come up with, but bottom line, I'm not convinced we can afford it," Rauhauser said.

Cherry said the district wants to hear from the public regarding the project, and he encouraged citizens to get involved with committee meetings. The district's next board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Aug. 16 at 101 Edgeway Road, Dover. The facilities committee meeting is held prior to the board meeting, at 6 p.m., in the same location.

A list of the problems in the intermediate school, according to Nelson, is below:

  • Not enough handicap accessibility in the front of the building. 
  • No elevator to get to the second floor of the building.
  • Single pane windows in classrooms, the same ones from the 1960s, are not energy-efficient. 
  • Paint is peeling on the walls. 
  • Restrooms have old floor urinals, which were installed in the school in the 1960s.
  • Hallways are not wide enough for the student body. 
  • Many classrooms only have one or two electrical outlets; not technologically compatible. 
  • Outside classrooms are cold and inconvenient for the kids. 
  • Many classrooms have window air conditioning units, which are loud and make it difficult for kids to pay attention. 
  • The gym, cafeteria and auditorium are not air conditioned. 
  • Asbestos tiles in many of the classrooms. 
  • Gym is not a regulation-sized gym, making basketball games cramped. 
  • The pool needs to be re-painted every two years, only has six lanes compared to the typical eight lanes, and does not have enough seating. 
  • The seating in the pool area is not handicap-accessible. 
  • The stage in the auditorium is used for band and choir practice as well as a storage place.