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Eastern York School District is moving forward with a building project about eight years in the making.

The district board on Feb. 20 approved architectural firm Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates moving into the design development phase for a new intermediate school next to the district's middle and high school. The new school would be located on district-owned property in Windsor Township.

The three-story structure would house grades three through five, while Wrightsville Elementary would change from a K-5 to a K-2 school. The district's other two K-5 elementary schools, Canadochly and Kreutz Creek, would close.

The need was born out of aging infrastructure at Canadochly and Kreutz Creek, which were built in the 1950s and last renovated in the 1970s.

"The main crux of exploration of building a new elementary building," said Superintendent Joseph Mancuso III, is the age of those two buildings, noting they were the "driving force." 

The projected cost of the project is $34 million, Mancuso said. The cost would not be in this year's budget, but he expects to send out bids by August or September.

Plans to build a new school originated in 2013, but the district did not have the finances at the time. Its long-range planning committee was put on hold in 2016. In January 2019, the district hired Crabtree to study potential elementary consolidation.

A steering committee of parents, teachers, and principals, administration and school board members formed in March 2019. A majority of that committee recommended the proposed 10.87-acre site on Mount Pisgah Road.

Adding an intermediate school would help balance class size at all levels, Mancuso said, noting one school has had three classes that each neared 30 students.

"All the first grade teachers now can work together," for example, and ease the class size burden, said board member Jim Reese. 

In September, the board approved the initial schematic design for the new building, including renovations to Wrightsville Elementary.

Christina Sowers, of Hellam Township, said Feb. 20 that some residents at an Oct. 28 community forum had voiced concerns about the small size of the site, safety, traffic and location.

Kreutz Creek and Canadochly are on opposite ends of the district compared with the middle and high school's central location in Windsor Township.

"I'm not here to debate if we need a new school," Sowers said, but she questioned the logic of taking elementary students out of their communities when the district could build a new school on the site of one of those schools. 

Board member Richard Zepp said some of Sowers' concerns were valid but others were misconceptions, and he recommended she do more research on how the project had evolved.

"Some of the things that you have stated are just simply a lack of understanding on where we’re at, what we’re doing, the cost of things and how we’ve accomplished things," he said.

Sowers also took issue with the district approving an architectural fee of an estimated $575,678 for the design of the new building, and an estimated $28,413 for Wrightsville Elementary renovations, without all municipal variances approved.

Board member Darvin Shelley agreed, saying the district has gone into the design phase without approvals on a couple of occasions and gotten "burnt" for it — once losing $1 million it had invested.

Mancuso said it's typical to move forward at this stage without all the approvals because a certain amount of work needs to be done to prepare for the Act 34 hearing, a public hearing required by state law on all new construction and substantial additions.

The district can pay up to $575,678, he said, but it could end up paying only $10,000, for example, if the project is halted.

A motion approving the fee passed 8-1 Thursday, with Shelley voting no.

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