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Hatboro-Horsham Board Eyes Willow Grove Naval Air Station for Building Options

The Public Spirit

File - (Tom Sofield)

Options to ensure that Hatboro-Horsham School District facilities are being used efficiently well into the future were discussed at the Monday’s school board meeting, with two of those scenarios involving the possible acquisition of land at the former Willow Grove Joint Reserve Naval Air Station, according to a release from the district.

For several years, the district has been exploring the needs for potential renovations and/or additions to its elementary schools and Keith Valley Middle School due to declining enrollment and the need for upgrades to some of the district’s older buildings.

In November 2008, the district reviewed a feasibility study done by Vitetta Associates that included building options for Keith Valley Middle School.

In spring 2009, the district reviewed a feasibility study on the elementary schools presented by architect Bonnie Sowers of the Ray Group.

The board made no decisions to move forward with any of the options outlined in these studies due to the uncertainty of what may happen with the former air base.

Now that the district has an opportunity to secure property at no or low cost through the land redevelopment process taking place at the former air base, the board and administration have been working with E.I. Associates, the firm to which Sowers now belongs, to revise the district’s options. Sowers, who is vice president of E.I. Associates, presented three different options at the March 7 meeting for addressing district facility needs in the future. Those three options include:

Option A: Maintaining existing buildings with renovations and upgrades. Estimated cost: $55,931,333.

Option B: Reconfiguring the district’s grade structure so that elementary schools would house children in grades K-4. Additions would be made to Blair Mill, Crooked Billet and Pennypack elementary schools, and a new “intermediate” school to house grades five and six would be built at the former air base. Simmons Elementary School would be converted into a “middle” school for grades seven and eight. The high school would remain the same. A new district administration building would be built at the former air base. The current Keith Valley Middle School building would be left open as a “back-up facility” should additional development at the base (which consists of more than 800 acres) lead to an increase in enrollment. Estimated cost: $75,494,639.

Option C: Building a new middle school on land at the former air base and making basic upgrades to elementary school buildings, with no change in grade configuration. A new district administration building would also be built at the former air base. The current Keith Valley Middle School building would be left open as a “back-up facility” should additional development at the former base lead to an increase in enrollment. Estimated cost: $74,464,849.

Options B and C would require the acquisition of approximately 60 acres at the former base. Federal law allows the school district and other local agencies to apply for and eventually acquire land at low or no cost. To be considered, the district must submit a proposal to the Horsham Township Land Reuse Authority by March 22.

The district will probably not know for several months if its proposal is approved, and the process will be very competitive – almost 100 organizations attended a recent tour of the base and expressed interest in obtaining property. If the district’s proposal is granted, Hatboro-Horsham would have another 30 years to develop the land.

“Decisions to move forward with any of the three options discussed tonight are a long way off,” said Superintendent Curtis Griffin. “But it is important for the district to get involved now with plans to redevelop the former base. If we are able to obtain property at low or no cost now, it will give us a great deal of flexibility in the future with regard to capital improvements.”

Sowers, the School Board and the administration will spend the next two weeks reviewing the options and doing more research in order to complete a proposal for the HLRA. The board will vote at the March 21 meeting to authorize submission of the proposal.

Republished with the permission of The Public Spirit/Globe Times Chronicle

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