EXETER — The Wyoming Area School Board did not make a decision on the status of the Sarah J. Dymond Elementary School during a public hearing Tuesday night.
District Solicitor Jarrett Ferentino was moderator of the meeting. According to board officials and Superintendent Janet Serino, a decision on whether to keep Sarah J. Dymond open will come after a 90-day cooling off period following Tuesday’s meeting. If closed, the district would have to make a decision on how to transition elementary-aged students prior to this coming fall term.
The prospects of closing the school come after the board hired KCBA Architects to conduct a feasibility study, starting in August 2014. That study revealed it might be financially prudent to close the school in Harding.
Tenth Street Elementary and John F. Kennedy Principal Jon Pollard, along with Sarah J. Dymond Principal Joe Long, gave a 42-page, one-hour presentation on the situation. The duo gave an outline of the district, as well as the projected enrollment for the next two school years.
The school district currently has 15 unoccupied classrooms – 11 are at Sarah J. Dymond – the presentation noted. Ninety-four students attend the school, which can house up to 300. The school is currently 26 percent occupied opposed to the other three elementary school in that district which are all over 80 percent occupied.
The presentation highlighted several issues with Sarah J. Dymond, which is located on Sutton Creek Road in Harding. According to the study done by KCBA, the district would have to do approximately $1.5 million of renovation to keep the school open. The problems with the school include a roof that needs to be replaced immediately and a heating system that needs an upgrade, along with the problems the school faces being in such an isolated area.
In the presentation, the two principals highlighted the steps the district would take if they chose to close Sarah J. Dymond.
If the school does close, the district would then have to decide on a center-based plan or a neighborhood-based plan for the remaining schools in the district. A center-based plan would put kindergarten in JFK only. Grades 1-3 would be in Tenth Street, while grades 4-6 would be at Montgomery Avenue.
In the neighborhood-based plan, each elementary school would house all students based on the location of the student.
According to Pollard and Long, both cases would have its advantages. The center-based option would allow for smaller class sizes for student needs to be met. The neighborhood-based plan would allow children of the same families to remain together. The district would also be able to keep most of its current staff in place.
The presentation stated Hanover Area School District compares most closely to Wyoming Area. The student population is similar, while the size of the districts are both near 30 square miles. Hanover Area uses a center-based plan. Pittston Area School District also uses a center-based plan.
Following the presentation, the floor was open for public comment. Sherry Dymond, of Falls, has a daughter that attends Sarah J. Dymond. She spoke to the board hoping the school would remain open.
“The children of the school, even though their houses are spaced apart, they still have a sense of community,” Dymond said. “Attending a new school and making new friends would come with consequences.”
Dymond’s daughter currently has a half-hour bus ride. Long and Pollard touched on the transportation problems and met with both Pace Transportation and attendance/transportation coordinator Angelo Falzone about handling the possible closure of the school.
From a financial standpoint, even adding one bus, would keep the cost near the same. One of the biggest differences, however, would be the district would have to push back the start time of the elementary schools to 8:35 a.m. as opposed to 8:20 a.m.
Craig Weiskerger, of Falls, currently has three children in the district, including a sixth grader who attends Tenth Street Elementary. In Wyoming Area School District, all sixth grade students attend the school in Wyoming. His sixth grader currently spends one hour, each way, on the bus each day. If the district would decide to go to a center-based model, that would mean students in grades 1-3 would be on the bus for one hour each way.
“My first choice is to keep the school open and find a way,” Weiskerger said. “(The problems with Sarah J. Dymond) are because you let it go for so many years.”
Wyoming Area Union President Melissa Dolman, a teacher at the Secondary Center, was the first to speak. Dolman asked District Business Manager Tom Melone what the projected savings would be if the district made this step in closing Sarah J. Dymond. Melone said the operational savings would eventually be around $85,000 yearly.
“For the district to go borrow ($1.5 million) would be additional strain onto the district,” Melone said.
In July of last year, the school board voted to spend $1,700 for appraisals of the Sarah J. Dymond property and JFK in Exeter. Sarah J. Dymond was appraised at $320,000. The board would have an option to sell the property down the road.
Sarah J. Dymond was originally Exeter Township Elementary School, and was built in 1939. According to the study, Sarah J. Dymond is a 23,974 square foot building on 4.2 acres. The school’s namesake was a first grade teacher at the school for 40 years. She had family in attendance Tuesday night.
Brenda Bitters, a former kindergarten teacher at the school, is a distant cousin to Sarah J. Dymond.
“I feel like it would be a loss to the community and children,” she said.
The board will discuss the situation at the upcoming regular school board meetings. The next regularly-scheduled meeting for the district will be at 7 p.m. on Jan. 29 in the Secondary Center auditorium. The board reminded the public they are invited to attend these meetings to discuss the possible closure of the school.
Both the feasibility study and the presentation from Tuesday’s meeting can be found on the school district’s website: www.wyomingarea.org.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick