HUGHESTOWN — Concerned parents and residents posed difficult questions to Pittston Area Superintendent Michael Garzella about the proposed closing of the Ben Franklin Kindergarten Center in Dupont. But theschool’s closing appeared inevitable by the end of Wednesday night’s hearing.
After a presentation by architect Patrick Endler of Borton-Lawson about the costly repairs needed at the center, Garzella then outlined his reasons for proposing the closure of the school.
He cited the cost of major repairs, but he also said the district had room for all students without using that building.
Garzella then outlined a plan in which the kindergarten and first-grade students would be housed at the Primary Center, which now serves first- and second-graders. The second grade would move to the Intermediate Center, which currently contains third, fourth and fifth grade.
In Garzella’s plan, the Intermediate Center would become a second-, third- and fourth-grade school. Fifth grade would then be added to the middle school, which now houses sixth through eighth grade.
Garzella then quoted enrollment numbers which he said showed that the buildings could accommodate the changes he suggested.
Board member Kent Bratlee asked if the plan would increase class sizes or furlough existing teachers.
Garzella said the same teachers would teach the same groups of students. The building assignment of the classes would be the only change.
Garzella said the plan had some benefits. Currently, one principal and guidance counselor split their time between the Kindergarten Center and the Primary Center. Under the new plan, they would remain on the Primary Center campus for the full day. Garzella also cited decreased transportation costs.
Garzella also said that fifth-grade students would have access to science labs under his new plan.
Board President Charles Sciandra asked Garzella if the board should be concerned about moving the fifth-graders up to a new level.
“It’s an adjustment. It’s a big change,” Garzella said. Part of his plan is to keep fifth and sixth grade on the first floor of the middle school and putting the seventh and eighth grades on the second floor.
Residents questions raised concerns about safety, bullying and transportation. The biggest concern seemed to be over putting fifth-graders in with older students.
“It’s kinda like you’re taking a year of their childhood away,” resident and parent Angie Krieger of Pittston said to a round of applause when commented on the shift of fifth-graders to the middle school. People applauded again when she suggested what could be done with the money saved by the plan.
“Bring music back!” she said.
Board Solicitor Joseph Saporito said the official decision on the school closing could not take place until 90 days after the hearing. One resident questioned the possibility of making the transition in such a short period of time.
Garzella said the transition would begin before the official decision was made, leaving the audience to conclude that the school closing was going forward.
“If we wait until the 90th day, it will be very difficult. We need to make the transition before,” Garzella said
Ben Franklin Principal Terry McAndrew’s remarks also underlined the probability of the school closing.
“I think change is very difficult to accept,” she said.
She assured parents that the change would not harm students. “We will not take away the opportunities,” she said. “We will not take away activities.”