With three elementary schools being considered for closure, Williamsport Area School District students, teachers, parents and community members are expected to fill the high school auditorium Monday night as they try to persuade the school board not to close their building.
The district disclosed its intent to close two of three elementary schools - Sheridan, Stevens or Round Hills - at the school board's March 20 meeting.
No matter what option is chosen, the district is expected to see a reconfiguration of grades - four buildings housing kindergarten through third grades, two schools for grades four through six, one middle and one high school.
Although the board cannot make a final decision until 90 days after Monday's public hearing, and no decision would take effect until the 2013-14 school year, the task of deciding what buildings to close already is weighing heavy on the minds of board members.
Lori Baer, board president, called the decision "gut-wrenching."
"I'm letting it take its course. Everything is so overwhelming when you hear it the first time, so I'm glad we get to hear it again. I think it's just important to listen to what people have to say," Baer said.
"It's always tough to close schools. No one likes to do that," said David Stone Jr., board member.
A 2008 feasibility study concluded that Round Hills, Sheridan and Stevens have the worst building conditions of all district buildings now open. Sheridan scored the lowest and was the only building rated as poor.
The Sheridan building scored poor in eight individual categories leading to the overall rating. Round Hills and Stevens scored poor in three categories each.
No other district elementary school scored poor in any categories in the study, and all were rated overall as excellent.
Sheridan also is one of two buildings - Curtin being the other - built in 1913, and has gone the longest - 54 years - without any renovations. The district also noted Sheridan as a school closing when submitting paperwork for the middle school project to the state Department of Education.
Board member Karen Harris has served on the board for 16 years and said closing Sheridan has always been a point of discussion.
"We've been discussing closing Sheridan for over 16 years so this is not something we've been taking lightly," she said.
Round Hills is the newest of the three buildings, built in 1960 - 32 years after Stevens.
"As a new board member, I'm thinking of the cost involved ... with bringing the remaining schools up to code. I've really given a lot of thought to this in regards to closing a school," said Jerene Milliken, board member.
Stevens would not require any construction or additions to its building, which lowers its local cost impact to about $7 million. Round Hills would require about $11 million of construction, with a local cost of almost $8 million.
Round Hills and Sheridan would require additions as they use modular classrooms. Architect Vern McKissick, of McKissick Associates, also noted Round Hills would need a bus loop and updated parking. Round Hills also creates a space issue as a multipurpose room would limit programs because the room also is the school cafeteria and gymnasium.
Board member Dale Vollman said he's looking at the amount of upkeep each building is going to need when making his decision.
Thomas Zimmerman, vice president of the board, said he'll look at the conditions of the buildings. He said each building has its own concerns but the board will review the information to come to the best decision.
"We know we're going to reduce the amount of elementary school buildings," Zimmerman said. "We just don't know which ones will be closing."
Although board member Jay Shultz agrees that no matter what decision is made, there's work to do for all buildings, and a big part of his decision involves transportation.
Kelly Wood, of Student Transportation of America, the district's contracted bus service provider, explained that depending on what schools are closed, boundaries will need to be changed. Wood presented two options, both with Sheridan closing.
If Round Hills would be the other school to close, it would create the least amount of moving around for students, and allows for a feeder-school process to happen when moving onto the intermediate schools, according to Wood's proposal.
McKissick also noted that although Sheridan and Stevens are walkable, Round Hills would require 100 percent of its students to be bussed.
Although Wood said she pulled children from different places to fill each remaining school in her presentation, Shultz doesn't want students to be seen as numbers but as children when a decision is being made.
"If you close one building, where do those students go and does it make sense?" he said. "If you close Round Hills, where do those students go and where do other buildings start pulling from (to fill their schools). We don't want students living close to one school building being bussed just to fill another."
Baer agreed that she doesn't want students being shuffled around the district just to meet a number but also wants to make a decision that would make the most sense economically.
"I'm going to look at - because I haven't made my mind up - the transportation issue as far as how we're going to do it," Baer said. "Part of it is the cost, but I'm not too fond of taking kids from town here to (Hepburn-Lycoming Elementary School)."
She also added that whatever decision is made, she wants to see students receive the same education no matter where they attend.
"I want to make sure those kids get the same services as other kids," Baer said. "It's only right. We need to offer our kids the same across the board."
Board member Dr. Jane Penman agreed that buildings are not the only factor, but academics must play a role.
"I want the schools that are to remain open to be the best schools they can be, not just physical structure but the academics as well," she said.
Zimmerman said the important thing is to remember each building is just a building and it won't affect the education.
"The building itself is just a building and I know that sounds somewhat cold but it's what's going on in the building (that counts)," he said.
The board members who spoke all said they have yet to make a decision and will wait until all information is presented before coming to a conclusion.
"This decision is being based on what's good for the district as a whole," Shultz said.
"I certainly believe regardless of where our kids go to school, it's not the schools that make our education work in Williamsport, it's our teachers and staff," Milliken said.
Attempts to contact board member Brette Confair for this report were not successful.