By JOSH COTTON
It might happen, it might not.
But Thursday night at Allegheny Valley Elementary School was a time set aside for parents of students who attend the district's gifted option, the Learning Enrichment Center, to explore the school as a possible destination for the program beginning next year.
LEC Principal Misty Weber, Superintendent Dr. William Clark and Director of Buildings and Grounds Dr. Norbert Kennerknecht spoke to a group of about 20 parents, as well as approximately 10 students, at this month's Gifted Education Advisory Meeting.
Clark was quick to point out that "no decision has been made yet" regarding the permanent location of the LEC. He spoke about the uniqueness of the WCSD's gifted program in comparison to other places he has worked in that students are taken out of the classroom and put in a unique, separate environment for enrichment. "We want to maintain that," he said.
He acknowledged that the district has vacant, or soon to be vacant, buildings that can be occupied by programs such as the LEC and that the district is, at this point, "investigating opportunities."
Clark cited several reasons why AVES could remain open, in spite of the district's Master Facilities Plan that originally called for the school to be closed with Sheffield Elementary when the K-12 facility is completed at the Sheffield High School complex.
With renovations at Warren Area High School in the early planning stages, it could be possible that space at AVES could be needed to house students during the renovations. "We haven't worked out all those details," he said.
The district is also still currently paying on a bond issue for AVES. "We still owe the state some money," he said. With those payments come reimbursement from the state that would cease if AVES shutters. The district stands to receive approximately $75,000 over the next three years from this reimbursement.
Additionally, AVES houses the district's server farm and Clark noted that moving the server farm would violate the warranties on the servers.
"We're not trying to hide anything," he said, emphasizing a need to find "what is in the best interest (of the district) as a whole."
Kennerknecht said that AVES was built in 1969 and last renovated in 1996 after a fire put the building out of service for two years.
"The condition of the building is still excellent," he said of the 48,966 square foot school. "All of the systems are relatively new."
A parent raised a point made in a presentation by administration at the closure hearing for AVES in June 2012 that cited maintenance cost for AVES at $252,644.
Kennerknecht took exception with the number and said that former Superintendent Brandon Hufnagel had derived that number. "That's not necessarily how we operate," he said, of calculating maintenance costs per square foot. He indicated that the maintenance cost could be as little as half of that amount, particularly due to savings and falling prices for natural gas and electric.
He noted that, even when closing a school completely, some costs are still incurred, specifically utilities to ensure the pipes are maintained. "If you close it, the environment takes over," he said, citing Pittsfield Elementary as an example of such a concern.
The board will ultimately have to approve the move of the LEC.
"This is a possibility," said Kennerknecht. "We haven't really pitched the idea to the board."
Among the other possibilities, the LEC could move to Russell Elementary, the proposed location of Central Office beginning next year. Clark said that is "still a possibility that could happen."
Parents expressed concern about a need for continuity and ensuring that the LEC does not constantly move repeatedly in the future.
When asked when a decision might be made as to the location of the LEC next year, Kennerknecht said the issue is on the agenda for committee meetings on March 31. Clark said that action would be likely at the April board meeting.
Weber thanked Clark and Kennerknecht for coming. "It starts the conversation," she said.