Avon Grove School Board wants new enrollment study
● By Steven Hoffman
The Avon Grove School Board recently approved three different contracts that could help district officials make decisions about how to meet the long-term facilities needs in the district.
At the Aug. 24 school board meeting, the board approved an enrollment study, a land-use analysis, and an agreement with a company to facilitate listening sessions and other community engagement activities this fall.
The three contract approvals come just weeks before the Avon Grove School District's Facilities Input Group is expected to deliver a non-binding recommendation to the school board regarding the school facilities. That recommendation will likely come at a committee-of-the-whole meeting that is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. at a location to be determined.
The school board decided to retain Sundance Associates to conduct a comprehensive enrollment study that will include updated projected enrollment figures.
School board member Charles Beatty initially questioned the necessity of the enrollment study, noting that projected enrollment was included in a report from Gilbert Architects that was completed in 2015. Beatty added that he talked to several township supervisors in the area and they told him that developers have not introduced any new large housing projects that would significantly impact the projected enrollment for the foreseeable future.
“They all said that there have been no new changes since the Gilbert study,” Beatty said.
However, board member Tracy Lisi pointed out that the enrollment numbers that were included in the Gilbert Architects report were a snapshot of that time, and did not include a comprehensive enrollment study.
Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese agreed with Lisi's point, saying that the Gilbert report only included soft enrollment projections. He added that it's good practice for a school district to have updated demographic data and enrollment projections every five years, and it has been seven years since Avon Grove's last such study.
School board president Bonnie Wolff pointed out that with the school board in the middle of a process to develop a comprehensive plan for school facilities, so the enrollment projections could be very useful—especially since student enrollment has now passed 5,100 students, the highest point since at least 2011.
“Because of these [enrollment] changes, I think an enrollment study would be necessary if we're going to make smart decisions about the facilities,” Wolff said.
The board approved the enrollment study unanimously after Beatty agreed that the new enrollment projections would be necessary if the data in the Gilbert report was not comprehensive enough.
Next, the board retained T & M Associates to provide engineering services and to compile a land-use analysis on the high school and middle school campus.
District officials said that such an analysis would be necessary to determine what kind of renovation project that the school district could undertake on the high school and middle school campus and still remain in compliance with London Grove Township's regulations.
Beatty argued against doing the land-use analysis now because it's too late to be of use to the Facilities Input Group, which is making a recommendation to the school board.
“It serves no purpose now,” Beatty said. “We could do this through the township's engineers if it is needed.”
The board approved the land-use analysis by a vote of 8-1.
The board then approved an agreement with Foster, Jacobs, & Johnson, Inc. to provide facilitation services for the district as Avon Grove begins the next phase of its effort to develop a long-range facilities plan.
Beatty said that he thought bringing in an outside company to “sell” the new school idea to the community was unnecessary, especially since the district already has a communications person on staff, as well as a communications consultant.
“I see this as a long-term contract and quite premature at this time,” Beatty said. He also expressed concerns that Foster, Jacobs, & Johnson, Inc. is a firm that specializes in rallying community support for school district building projects that must be approved by referendum. Avon Grove, Beatty said, has not made a decision about any one construction project.
“I'm concerned that to do this at this time sends the wrong message to the community,” Beatty said.
School board vice president Brian Gaerity said that the purpose of retaining Foster, Jacobs, & Johnson is to facilitate the gathering of feedback regarding the recommendation from the Facilities Input Group. The district plans to conduct listening sessions from late September through December to gather as much information as possible. It is necessary, Gaerity said, to have a facilitator to engage the community in the various ways that will be necessary. He pointed out that that task shouldn't be handled by a superintendent or a business administrator, who have different duties to handle.
Board member Bill Wood agreed. Noting his own experience as a facilitator, Wood emphasized that facilitating goes far beyond simply communicating the details of a plan to the community. Wood said that retaining a facilitator will help ensure that the stakeholders in the district are engaged in the process.
Ultimately, the board voted 8-1 in favor of approving the contract with Foster, Jacobs, & Johnson.