Meeting held to weigh Gill Hall options in West Jefferson Hills

March 8, 2012 5:59 am

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Enrollment at Gill Hall Elementary School, one of three elementary schools in West Jefferson Hills School District, has steadily increased from 247 students during the 2005-06 school year to 348 students today.

During that time, changes to accommodate the growth included conversion of the music room and of administrative space to classrooms, and implementation of shared educational services space.

But with enrollment next year anticipated at 355 students due to new housing developments and no additional space available for conversion to classrooms, the district and community met to discuss options, including a $2.4 million six-classroom addition.

"In this day and age that's pretty significant,'' acting superintendent Hamsini Rajgopal said of the cost at a March 1 special meeting in Thomas Jefferson High School gymnasium that drew about 150 residents.

No vote was taken, and there is no timeline for a decision.

The administration will make a recommendation to the board at a later date.

The next time it will be publicly discussed is at the board work session starting at 7:30 p.m. March 20 in the high school cafeteria.

The issue was spurred by a demographic study commissioned by the district that projected shifts in student population over the next ten years based on birth rates, new housing plans, and more.

The administration then developed six options for board consideration that address district growth.

The first option is that all buildings remain status quo with current conditions.

The second is to provide temporary, modular classrooms at Gill Hall.

The third option is to review school district feeder patterns.

That includes a Plan A: realign all school boundaries; Plan B: realign Gill Hall, shifting students to Jefferson Elementary, and from Jefferson to McClellan Elementary; and Plan C: realign Gill Hill, shifting students to McClellan.

The fourth option is to restructure the elementary schools to create two schools containing grades K-2, and create one school containing grades 3-5.

The fifth option is the move grade 5 to Pleasant Hills Middle School.

The sixth option is to build an addition onto Gill Hall while using temporary modular classrooms.

Architect Ryan Pierce, of JC Pierce LLC of Bellevue, said there is no room for an addition onto McClellan except as a second story. But that is not feasible, he said, because it would take the school out of use for a year.

And, at Jefferson, there is no logical place to put an addition, making such an action very expensive.

In the public comment which followed, Lori Danen, the mother of a special needs child at Gill Hall, said uprooting elementary students as they are beginning to develop friendships is unfair.

It also can be harmful to autistic children like her daughter, who need continuity to succeed.

She said she prefers the option of building an addition onto Gill Hall.

Donna Sonnett, whose son has multiple disabilities, said changing his friends, environment, teachers, and the care he gets at Gill Hall "would take him to a point where he would not function.''

She prefers using modulars at this time.

To view the demographic study and the March 1 presentation, visit: www.wjhsd.net.

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.
First Published 2012-03-08 05:00:54

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