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Fewer Schools Possible With New Hallowell

Demolition of the existing Hallowell Elementary School and rebuilding of a new school could result in the closure of other district elementary schools, administrators said.

In the coming weeks and months, the Hatboro-Horsham School Board will need to answer a question that serves as a deciding factor for the future of the district's educational facilities. 

"What will the size of Hallowell be" was the inquiry Superintendent Curtis Griffin reiterated several times during Monday's school board work session.

It's a question yet to be determined as the district awaits transfer, tentatively in May, of the former Horsham Memorial Army Reserve Center, which is situated on Route 611 in Horsham. The government-owned property is the future home of Hallowell Elementary School. 

The existing nearly 52-year-old school would be demolished and a new school would be built where the federal government's brick buildings currently stand.

"Depending on the size of Hallowell, that will dictate how many elementary schools we keep open and how many we close," he said.  

But, before a new school could open its doors, Griffin said "there's an incredible process" that must first unfold. 

"To undertake something like this and actually begin in this year alone it would not be until June 2015 that we would begin to occupy that particular building," Griffin said, adding that a "more realistic" goal would be for the school to be ready by June 2016. 

Paying for Hallowell 

Bob Reichert, the district's director of business affairs, estimated a $15 million to $20 million price tag for the new school, depending on the size the district ultimately approves. In plans prepared by EI Associates last fall, the smallest model, for 450 students, would mean a 43,358-square-foot school, while the outline for 600 students would net a 50,227-square-foot building. In the last model, for 750 students, a 59,652-square-foot facility is envisioned. 

"These are just sketches," Griffin said. "There is nothing in stone. Nothing is a must."

Regardless of which model the district advances, Reichert said following the meeting that the board must be "conscious of the Act 1 index," which, for this budget cycle means a tax increase of 1.7 percent or less.  

To help cover the expense of building a new school, Reichert said the district has been "planning for several years on a systematic, strategic approach," which involves refinancing bonds, keeping money in reserves and expiring some existing debt service. 

Griffin echoed similar sentiments during Monday's meeting.

"It’s not something we want to burden our taxpayers with, increased taxes," Griffin said. "Our debt service will be diminishing. That will give us the opportunity to take on new debt service without having to increase our taxes in the process." 

Enrollment and planning for the future

District-wide, Hatboro-Horsham's enrollment has continued to decline since at least 2002-2003, according to a presentation Griffin shared Monday. Based on his numbers, 5,558 students were enrolled in 2002-2003 as compared to 5,362 in 2007-2008 and 4,901 in the 2012-2013 school year. 

At the elementary level, enrollment has declined by more than 15 percent. A total of 2,037 students are enrolled for the 2012-2013 school year at all of the five elementary schools combined as compared to 2,249 in 2007-2008 and 2,413 in 2002-2003. 

At Hallowell, 279 students are enrolled this school year, as compared to 393 during the 2006-2007 school year. 

In conjunction with reviewing enrollment trends, Griffin said the district is also considering two separate demographic studies. One shows a continued decrease in enrollment, while the other shows an increase, he said. 

"It's not about tomorrow," Griffin said. "It's about looking long-term about how we see some of the demographics."

In one of the evaluations, from Decision Insite, Griffin said the enrollment impact firm estimated 500 new dwelling units throughout Hatboro and Horsham. However, as part of the redevelopment plan for 862 acres of shuttered Willow Grove air base,

Looking ahead 

In the next several months, Griffin said the board will talk more about Hallowell plans and could be ready to make a decision in six months.

Throughout the early part of the process, he said district officials will be meeting with Wissahickon School District representatives to see how that district handled its recent building projects. Griffin said discussions with four other districts regarding approaches for building projects would follow. 

"We need to start to really study this," Griffin said. "The numbers are clear ... the size of Hallowell will dictate our next step."

Marko3 February 06, 2013 at 02:37 PM
Seems to me they should close Blair Mill and Crooked Billet and centralize all elementary students in the new Hallowell. Then the district could sell off the properties and use the money to reduce the debt. The new school will be much more efficient,
Citizen February 06, 2013 at 06:54 PM
One of the primary reasons I bought my house was because my son can walk to school everyday at Crooked Billet. If they close the school and he has to take a bus to some massive school with three times as many kids I will be furious. The hometown feel of Hatboro is rapidly disappearing and closing either of our Elementary schools will just be another nail in the coffin of small town American life.
Doris Ellen Lloyd February 09, 2013 at 08:46 PM
I understand how you feel, though my kids are older now 16 and 21. I loved Crooked Billet school when they were attending it was so cosy. Everyone new me there we could walk there from our house and it added to the charm of Hatboro. I really hope this won’t be lost!

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