Avon Grove looks toward the future with district-wide facilities study
● By Steven Hoffman
Avon Grove School District officials now have the results of a recently completed district-wide facilities study to help them make some important decisions about the future.
The 203-page facilities study, compiled by Gilbert Architects, Inc., evaluated the district’s existing buildings and also took a look at future needs. The document was presented to Avon Grove’s Facilities Committee on March 4.
Avon Grove School Board president Brian Gaerity said that district officials will be able to take their time to carefully consider the various options to address the long-term facilities needs of the district.
“This is just the start of the process,” said Gaerity, “and I honestly don’t know how long the process will take. We don’t have a capacity crisis of any kind, but there are a number of major issues that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later.”
The district currently has four school buildings, two on an elementary campus for grades K-6 and two on the secondary campus for grades 7-12. A major purpose of the study was to analyze the impact of projected enrollments, grade configurations, and full-day kindergarten on each of the buildings. The facilities study analyzes the physical and programming needs for each building. This will help district officials develop a long-range master plan.
Student enrollment in the district peaked in the 2007-2008 school year, when 5,445 students attended Avon Grove schools. For the current year, there are 5,084 students, which is the lowest level in a decade. Overall, student enrollment is expected to continue to decline over the next ten years, but there are a number of factors that could change this, including unexpected population growth in the local communities.
The enrollment projections also don’t make any assumptions about the return of students who live in the district but are enrolled in other schools. Currently, 864 students are enrolled elsewhere, most of them—747 students—in the Avon Grove Charter School. There are also 36 students placed at the Intermediate Unit and 10 more who attend approved private schools.
Avon Grove would like to bring back some of those students attending other schools, but some of the educational initiatives that the district might want to pursue can’t become a reality because of some of the limitations with the facilities. For example, there has been considerable talk about transitioning from a half-day kindergarten program to a full-day program. That change will require more space to house the additional students. Avon Grove officials also expect that more students will come back to the school system from regional charter schools as a result. However, Gaerity said, there isn’t a way to expand to a full-day kindergarten program in the buildings with the way the grades are currently configured.
The facilities study includes an analysis of each building's capacity. At the elementary school level, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) considers a classroom to be fully utilized when there are 25 students in a classroom. The Avon Grove administration’s recommended class size, however, is 22 students. Using those figures, the Penn London Elementary School, a K-2 building, has a PDE capacity of 1,025, but a functional capacity of 902 students. There are currently 929 students at Penn London, so the building is being utilized at 103 percent of its capacity according to the administration’s guideline for class sizes.
The Avon Grove Intermediate School, a grades 3-6 building that was built in 2002, has a PDE capacity of 1,575 students and a functional capacity of 1,488 students. There are currently 1,513 students in the building, and it is being utilized at 102 percent of its functioning capacity.
In the secondary schools, class sizes can’t be as large. The Fred S. Engle Middle School, which was built in 1961, has a PDE capacity of 854 students and a functional capacity of 930 students. There are currently 858 students in the school so it is being utilized at 92 percent of its capacity based on the administration’s recommendations.
At the high school, which was originally built in 1957 and renovated in 1995, 1997 and 2008, the current enrollment is 1,806 students. The PDE capacity including modular classrooms is 1,433. The capacity following the administration’s guidelines is 1,676. The school is being utilized at 108 percent of its capacity based on the administration’s guidelines and 126 percent of its capacity based on PDE guidelines.
The facilities study also includes a summary of the renovations that each building needs to be brought up to code and to meet the educational needs of the district. The newest building, the Avon Grove Intermediate School, only needs about $1.4 million in capital improvements. The study said that the middle school needs about $1.9 million in capital improvements. Penn London Elementary School needs an estimated $5.8 million in capital improvements. The high school needs the most work, with an estimated $20 million in capital improvements identified in the study. Some of the buildings’ shortcomings impact the educational program—for instance, the high school is limited when it comes to technology.
Gaerity said that throughout the planning process district officials will be charged with making many decisions about whether it’s more cost-effective to pursue renovations rather than constructing a new school.
The study includes a variety of options on how to address Avon Grove’s future facilities needs, several of which that would change the grade configurations in the schools. There is a thought that sixth-graders would be better served in a middle school setting rather than being the highest grade on the elementary school campus, so the four options for the primary schools all have the elementary school campus serving K-5 students. The study includes a range of costs for each option.
Option 1, which doesn’t require a construction project, simply transforms Penn London Elementary into a K-1 building with full-day kindergarten. The Avon Grove Intermediate School then becomes a building for grades 2-5. Option 1 would not directly cost the district anything, although changes would need to be made to the secondary school campus to accommodate
Option 2 calls for the construction of a new primary center building with full-day kindergarten. The Penn London Elementary School would serve grades 1-2 and the Avon Grove Intermediate School would house just three grades, 3-5. The project costs for Option 2 range from $17.8 million to $20.8 million.
Option 3 would be completed in two phases, starting with a new addition to the Penn London Elementary School to be used for K-2 programming. The Avon Grove Intermediate School would maintain the existing programming for grades 3-6. Then, during phase 2, the Penn London Elementary School would transition to a school for kindergarten and first grade, while AGIS would be used for grades 2-5. The project costs range from $4.6 million to $5.2 million, and is contingent on a construction project at the secondary level that would accommodate the sixth grade students.
Option 4 would also be completed in two phases. The first phase would have Penn London serving K-2 students with modular classrooms being added. AGIS would continue with grades 3-6. Then, in the second phase, the modular classrooms would be removed and Penn London Elementary would transition to a K-1 building with the AGIS serving students in grades 2-5. Option 4 costs range from $2.6 million to $3.1 million, and would also rely on a construction project at the secondary level.
There are three options for the secondary schools in the study, and all three have the district building a new school on the 153.8 acres of land that the district already owns in Penn Township. The property borders Old Baltimore Pike and Sunnyside Road.
In Option A, the district would build a new middle school for grades 6-8. The Fred S. Engle School would then be used to accommodate 400 STEM students at the high school level. Avon Grove High School would be renovated to accommodate 1600 students. The project costs for Option A range from $129.4 million to $154.1 million with all the construction and renovations.
Option B calls for the construction of a new high school on the Sunnyside Road property. The 2000-student high school would include room for a full STEM program, and would be built so that it could be expanded to 2400 students. The Fred S. Engle Middle School would be turned into a district administration building and community center. The high school would be converted into the middle school for grades 6-8. The project costs for Option B range from $160.6 million to $192.6 million.
Option C would be for a smaller high school to be built on the property at Sunnyside Road. The school would accommodate 1600 students, and would be expandable to 2000 students. The Fred S. Engle School would be utilized for 400 STEM students in grades 9-12. The high school would be converted into a middle school. The total project costs will range from $140.2 million to $168.6 million.
District officials are pleased that they now have a wealth of updated information available to them.
“We’re excited about the information,” said Avon Grove Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese. He added that the Facilities Committee will work through the facilities study and keep the issues front and center for the school board and the rest of the district.
“I think this is a very important topic for Avon Grove and will be discussed at many, many, many meetings,” Marchese said.
“The student experience is the center of the universe for us,” said Gaerity. “That will drive a lot of these decisions that we are going to make.”