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Altoona Area committee discusses elementary options

Possibilities for the future of several school buildings was the topic of discussion Wednesday during an Altoona Area School Board physical plant committee meeting.

The four-member committee of school board members and Superintendent Charles Prijatelj traded ideas about potential sites for a new elementary school, selling the Wright Elementary School building and solving an asbestos problem at the William P. Kimmel Alternative School.

At the center of the discussion was potential locations for a new elementary school building. Committee members’ opinions were split on exploring the Keith Athletic Field at 13th Street as a site for a new school.

Sharon Bream and Ron Johnston were opposed to requesting that the entire nine-member board vote in February on whether hire the EADS Group to provide a boundary and topographic survey of the Keith property.

Committee Chairman Dick Lockard said he was against building a school at the Keith field because a sewer line slices through it. However, he and fellow physical plant committee member Bill Ceglar agreed to at least have the survey completed.

Prijatelj broke the 2-2 vote to put the EADS Group survey on the February meeting agenda.

A new 600-student elementary school would complement a major high school construction project aimed at relieving the district’s eight overcrowded elementary schools by 2020.

Prijatelj introduced new options for the board to consider in addition to building a school at Keith field.

“There are other options I asked KCBA to look at. One of them is to renovate and expand Baker Elementary on Ward Avenue. The issue is that the best way to do that is to tear it down and build a new one in the same spot. That would also mean we would have to (use) eminent domain (to obtain) houses behind the school. KCBA did not recommend that option,” he said.

Another option is to build a school big enough on the Keith field to allow the district to close Baker elementary.

“KCBA thinks that is very viable. We would be creating a 600-student school that adds to our capacity. That solves a big chunk of our overcrowding,” Prijatelj said.

But there are two more options.

The Logan Elementary School at Sycamore Street could be a site for a sister school, “creating a super site” with 1,200 kids, Prijatelj said.

The fourth option would be to look for land to build another school. Prijatelj said he has his eye on a wooded area off Valley View Boulevard.

“It is a nice area if we wanted to build a separate elementary school. A site like that could be considered. Same basic scenario when Pleasant Valley was created,” he said. “It would draw students from the center of town to the suburbs.”

He said that option would improve equity of instruction and even out student demographics.

Johnston insisted on reopening Wright Ele­mentary at 11th Street.

The school was closed in 2013. But to reopen it means the district would have to update it to 2016 standards.

“The issue with Wright is that to recommission it will cost more than building a new school. It’s an option, but it’s a financial commitment to make that happen and make it ADA compliant,” Prijatelj said.

Board member Wayne Hippo, who is not on the physical plant committee but attended the meeting, rejected the idea of reopening Wright.

“It’s landlocked and on a horrible slope. We’d be throwing away millions of dollars just to get it to current code. It doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

The physical plant committee authorized Prijatelj on Wednesday to call Howard Hannah Realty to sell the Wright building. The realty agency sold the building years back to Slinky Action Zone, but the board changed its mind as it began considering it as a site for a STEM school for science, technology, engineering and math, Johnston said.

With the agreement of the committee to sell Wright, the remaining issue Wednesday was how to handle asbestos at the William P. Kimmel Alternative School by the fall.

The alternative school receives students with a combination of behavioral and academic problems.

Old floor tiles in a dozen classrooms of the building are becoming unglued, resulting in an asbestos hazard underneath the floor.

The committee could not come to a consensus on a new location for the program within the districts’ other buildings. Instead, the board will ask for bidders to repair the flooring in the summer.

In the future, Prijatelj said a new home for the alternative education program may be found at another school building if the board chooses to build a new elementary school. And the Kimmel building could eventually be sold.

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