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MASD buys land in Lower Swatara Township, says it won’t affect future of elementary schools

By Phyllis Zimmerman, Special to the Press & Journal
Posted 11/26/19

The Middletown Area School District is adding to its properties in Lower Swatara Township.

At its Nov. 19 meeting, the Middletown Area School Board voted to proceed with the acquisition of a …

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MASD buys land in Lower Swatara Township, says it won’t affect future of elementary schools

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The Middletown Area School District is adding to its properties in Lower Swatara Township.

At its Nov. 19 meeting, the Middletown Area School Board voted to proceed with the acquisition of a 3.25-acre parcel at 225 Oberlin Road. The vacant lot, commonly known as the Espenshade Farm, is located behind the middle school and abuts a vacant 8-acre parcel that’s also owned by the district.

The board approved purchasing the property from the Espenshade family for $85,000. It had been marketed for sale and was purchased in lieu of condemnation.

Although the district is considering options for handling projected growth in its elementary grades, Superintendent Lori Suski said last week that the district has no definitive plans for the new property.

“We don’t know right now what our plans will be for this in the future. Everyone in the district should keep in mind that the purchase of this land is no indication that the district has made a decision about an elementary building project,” Suski said.

Suski also noted that it made “perfect sense” for the district to acquire the property while it’s available because of its location.

At a special school board meeting last month, architect Scott Cousin of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates, presented three options for addressing elementary enrollment that is projected to increase by nearly 15 percent by 2024.

Options included a center-based model that would involve constructing a new building for all students in grades 2 through 5 on vacant district land behind the middle school. Kunkel Elementary School and Fink Elementary School would close under this option and Reid Elementary School would be converted to grades K-1 with minor building renovations. Total estimated costs range from $34.9 million to $37.3 million.

Other options include:

Neighborhood School Concept A: Maintain district’s current K-5 structure with comprehensive renovations and additions at Kunkel. Comprehensive renovations at Fink, minor renovations to Reid. Total estimated costs: low range, $35.66 million; high range, $38.68 million.

Neighborhood School Concept B: Maintain district’s current K-5 structure with comprehensive renovations and additions at Fink. Comprehensive renovations at Kunkel, minor renovations to Reid. Total estimated costs: low range, $33.7 million; high range, $36.6 million.

Hybrid option: Convert Fink and Kunkel to grades K-3 neighborhood primary schools, convert Reid to center-based intermediate school for grades 4-5. Comprehensive renovations and additions to Fink. Comprehensive renovations to Kunkel, minor renovations to Reid. Total estimated costs: low range,  $33.4 million; high range, $36.3 million

Suski said last week that the school board plans to revisit the elementary project options Dec. 3, with a final decision expected within 18 months.

Mini-stadium update

In other news, the Middletown Area School Board authorized the district to file a second appeal with the Federal Aviation Administration regarding the FAA’s decision concerning four light poles planned for the upcoming synthetic turf mini-stadium.

Plans call for a 500-seat stadium and an athletic amenities building to be located in front of the high school, as well as a new maintenance/storage facility that would be situated behind the school.

After months of waiting, the district recently was notified by the FAA that an initial appeal filed by the district in June for placing the light poles according to the architect’s design was conditionally accepted. Listed conditions included attaching warning lights to each of the four poles and painting the entire length of each of the poles with orange and white stripes.

After conferring with FAA officials, architect Dave Horn of Architerra advised the district to file an new appeal concerning the light pole’s appearance.

The district now is proposing to equip each pole with medium dual warning light systems in lieu of the painted stripes. Horn and district director of operations Richard Meiser said that any additional costs for the medium light systems would be offset by what the district would save by not having to maintain painted stripes on each pole.

FAA representatives reportedly advised the district that the new appeal will be processed in “approximately one week.”

The FAA has a say in the project because of the mini-stadium’s proximity to Harrisburg International Airport.