Avon Grove School Board set to begin deliberating facilities options
● By Steven Hoffman
Avon Grove School District officials have spent the last several months holding nearly two dozen “listening post” sessions as a way to gather community input as the district prepares to make a decision about how to address its long-term facilities needs. Now that the listening posts have been completed and valuable information and feedback from stakeholders has been gathered, it's time for the school board to start deliberating facilities options.
Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese said following the Jan. 25 school board meeting that he hopes residents and stakeholders will remain fully engaged in the process as it enters a new phase and the school board begins to discuss the various facilities options to ensure that the buildings meet the academic needs of students. A series of at least seven facilities planning work sessions are planned throughout February, March, and April. The school board is still expected to make a decision about the direction the district will go in by the end of April, Marchese said.
Last September, after more than 16 months of work, a Facilities Input Group delivered a non-binding recommendation on how to address the district's facilities needs. The proposal included the construction of a new $64 million middle school for grades six through eight on a district-owned parcel on Sunnyside Road and nearly $76 million in exstensive renovations to the existing high school and middle school buildings that would include the addition of new core spaces like a cafeteria, gymnasium, and library that would link the buildings and create a new Avon Grove High School campus that could support 21st century learning for all the district's students. Additionally, under the recommended plan, the grades would be reconfigured at the district's other schools so that Penn London Elementary would serve kindergarten and first grade students, while the Avon Grove Intermediate School would serve grades two through five.
The school district recently published a newsletter regarding the results of the listening posts. According to the newseletter, approximately 500 people participated in the listening posts. The attendees were asked to identify areas in which current facilities are meeting district needs and areas in which the current facilities are falling short of meeting those needs. Teachers were asked questions designed to assess how well the buildings met the educational needs of students. Questions to administrators, support staff, students, parents, and community members were aimed at gathering broad feedback about the facilities, and to identify current facilities challenges and to identify priorities of the needs.
Marchese said that the listening posts were beneficial as a way to share information with stakeholders and to get feedback about what the facilities needs are across the district.
“I think they went really well,” Marchese said. “From the feedback that I received, the teachers, in particular, were thankful to provide input into the process. There were a lot of good discussions.”
What district officials learned from the listening posts is that many of the participants shared concerns about overcrowding and the lack of classroom space. The community's top concerns included the number of classrooms, classroom size, and the number of students per classroom. Particpants also said that more spaces that are conducive to 21st century learning and spaces that are suitable for today's science, technology, engineering and math programs are needed.
Renovating the high school was identified as a top priority at many listening posts. A need for improved shared spaces, including cafeterias and auditoriums, was also frequently identified as a priority. Other concerns included HVAC systems, handicapped accessiblity, and a lack of space for academic and extracurricular activities.
Overall, the facilities needs that were most often mentioned by stakeholders and residents during the listening posts reinforced the facilities needs that were identified in the feasibility study that was completed three years ago, as well as during the 16-month period when the Facilities Input Group was doing its work.
The district distributed surveys in which listening post participants were asked to rate their feedback of the Facilities Input Group's non-binding recommendation. The respondends could say that they “strongly support,” “somewhat support,” “somewhat oppose,” or “strongly oppose” the non-binding recommendation. A fifth option was “need more information.” Overall, about 81 percent of the respondents said that they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” the Facilities Input Group's recommendation.
Upcoming Committee of the Whole Facilities Planning Meetings will take place on Feb. 8, Feb. 27, March 8, March 27, April 3, and April 12. More information about the district's facilities planning and the times and places of the upcoming meetings can be found on the school district's website at avongrove.com.