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Cumberland Valley School District

The Cumberland Valley School Board has authorized the district to negotiate the purchase of a 116-acre lot at 31 Old Willow Mill Road bordering Carlisle Pike in Silver Spring Township around Hogestown. The property, known as the McCormick Farm, is for sale with an asking price of $1.5 million.

With the taking of the McCormick Farm now off the table, the Cumberland Valley School Board will need to move relatively rapidly on new options to address the district’s growing attendance.

The board will re-convene in August after its July recess, with the district’s administration already laying the groundwork for further discussion on how to deal with expansion needs.

“The board will have to consider what it wants to do next in terms of providing space for middle school programs,” Superintendent Fred Withum said. “That’s ultimately what it comes down to.”

Although the board will be going back to the drawing board when it comes to finding space, the issue remains the same — the school district has experienced record growth among younger pupils in recent years, and those large classes are moving up, creating an impending bulge of students at the middle school level.

CVSD has two middle schools: Eagle View on the district’s main campus in Silver Spring Township, and Good Hope in Hampden Township.

A new facility, Mountain View, is under construction along Bali Hai Road in Hampden as a replacement for Good Hope. When Mountain View opens and Good Hope closes, the middle schools will still collectively be 96 percent full, Withum said.

“The 4 percent space that’s left is going to be quickly filled by students who are in larger classes in lower grades,” Withum said. “At this point, we don’t need a lot of move-ins to get to the 100 percent point.”

Eminent domain

Last month, Cumberland Valley School District ended its legal battle to exercise eminent domain at the McCormick Farm property in Silver Spring Township, which the district planned to turn into a middle school campus.

Already embroiled in a legal battle with Natural Lands, the nonprofit conservation group that holds a preservation easement over the farm, the district was dealt another blow last month with the passage of Pennsylvania Act 45.

The law requires entities to prove to a judge that they have no other viable options before exercising eminent domain over preserved land, and would’ve required the district to enter into a new legal process.

While he didn’t rule out that the district could use land it already owns to expand, this would be less than ideal, Withum said. The administration still believes the best option is to find another parcel, preferably one that is for sale and not under a preservation easement, thus obviating the need for eminent domain.

“We’ve had several owners approach us since the pass of the legislation that have said they want to sell,” Withum said. “When the board comes back, we’ll certainly make them aware of all of those offers.”

However, Withum said, the parcels pitched thus far have not been great.

“We’ve looked at one prior and it’s iffy, it’s not in a great location,” he said.

Growth issues

The district’s annual enrollment growth has averaged 1.77 percent over the past 10 years, according to statistics compiled by Withum.

Over the last five years, that growth rate has accelerated to an average of 2.87 percent, but in a very uneven manner with respect to grade level. Kindergarten through fifth-grade enrollments have averaged 4.14 percent annual growth, sixth through eighth grade up 2.96 percent, and high school up 0.88 percent.

“You would wish they would come evenly distributed across the grade levels, but our issue is that almost all of our kids that have moved into the district in the past decade have come in at the elementary levels,” Withum said.

Very few students have moved into the district at the high school level, and high school growth has been fueled by larger class years moving up. This is much easier to deal with at the high school level, since many students are involved in early college, vo-tech or work release programs.

Middle school space, however, is a bigger problem.

Although elementary school growth rates have slackened somewhat in the last three years, the class sizes upcoming will still dwarf the current middle school load. Current middle school class years average 729 students, but those will push close to 800 within five years, according to projections.

If new land cannot be acquired, the most logical move would be to expand Eagle View, Withum said. The middle school is located on CV’s main campus, adjacent to the high school, and the campus has existing outparcels. In contrast, Good Hope’s cast steel and concrete construction make additions difficult, and its lot size is constrained by drainage needs.

“The more likely scenario would be that, if we wanted to enlarge Eagle View, that would be the best possibility for growth on this campus,” Withum said. “But now you’re going to put about 4,500 secondary students on this campus, and we would have another 500 or so elementary students on this campus [at Silver Spring Elementary].”

“So that puts us to where we would need to reconsider working with roadways and access points and things like that in order to get that many kids in here,” Withum said.

Road issues

Even if a large enough parcel with a willing seller is found, road access can run into eminent domain issues as well, Withum said.

“We might have literally 60 homeowners along the route from that parcel to the Carlisle Pike, where the township or PennDOT would require us to widen the road and put turn lanes in for buses, and we would have to negotiate with the homeowners for right-of-way,” Withum said.

The ideal parcel would have ready sewer and water access, be a limited distance from a major road, and be in the center of the western advance of student population.

“Student population, if you look at a map going back to 2001, you can see the growth heading west from Harrisburg,” Withum said. “They start to fill up Hampden Township, then they fill up eastern Silver Spring, now they’re filling up western Silver Spring.”

“If we go too far west ahead of the growth, it becomes inefficient in terms of transportation,” Withum said. “But if you don’t keep it far enough ahead, you’re behind the first day you open your doors.”

With the addition of Winding Creek Elementary, being built near Mountain View Middle School on Bali Hai Road, Cumberland Valley’s stock of elementary space should be sufficient for another five to eight years at current growth rates, Withum said.

Further, if another middle school is built, Good Hope can be used as additional elementary space for the adjacent Hampden Elementary, Withum said. Parts of Good Hope could also be used for high school vocational and technology programs, providing additional flexibility on that end as well.

Middle school space is only good for another two to five years, making the school board’s quest for more space relatively urgent, given the yearslong timeline of actually building a new school.

These time scales are somewhat flexible, Withum said, in the sense that schools can be run at beyond 100 percent capacity, depending on what options are available.

“We can start to go a little over 100 percent and it’s not a big deal to make do with slightly larger class sizes, re-purposing rooms, things like that,” Withum said. “We’ve found that when you get to 110 percent of capacity and over, you have to make some decisions about how you use your facility that will start to impact your education programs.”

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Reporter for The Sentinel.