Category Archives: Editorial

Questions about a New School

On March 24, 2008, I listened as the Elizabethtown Area School Board presented its plans for a new intermediate school to the Mount Joy Planning Commission. As the meeting progressed, I became more and more concerned regarding the proposal. Several community members spoke up to express their concerns. Thankfully, Vice Chairman Blaine Miller and other members of the planning commission appeared genuinely interested in listening to the concerns of those present.

While I understand the overcrowding situation the district is facing, I hope that the school board members will listen to the many citizens that have expressed their reservations. Until September 2007, the school board led the community to believe it was turning East High Street Elementary into an intermediate school and adding on to existing elementary schools. Now in the past 6 months the board has completely changed its plans. The school board has sent out 100 notices to neighbors it believes will be affected by the school. Unfortunately, many others (including those living in the immediate vicinity of the school) were excluded from this list. A proposal of this magnitude deserves thoughtful planning and input from various members of the community. Hastily pushing the project to completion will affect thousands of students, residents, and taxpayers for years to come.

The traffic for this school (with an estimated student population of 1,125) will impact far more than the 100 homes that were originally invited to the public meeting. Obviously, the bus and parent traffic along Groff and Ridge Roads as well as Sheaffer and College Avenue will increase dramatically. However, cross-town traffic will also increase substantially along smaller streets such as Chestnut, Mount Joy, Spruce, Campus, Hickory Run, and Spring Road. The smaller streets of these residential sections of town are not equipped to handle the volume of traffic that a new school of this size will require. Possibly a more important issue is the very limited access this proposed site offers. As it stands now there is only one access road (Sheaffer Road). Even with an extension of College Avenue, Sheaffer Road and College Avenue will both funnel to the same location at Campus Drive. This will no doubt prove to be completely inadequate to handle a school of this size. Has the board considered access from East High Street across district-owned property? Has the board considered dual access to the school from both East High Street and Shaffer Road to more evenly distribute bus and parent traffic?

In addition to inadequate automobile access, the new location is not appropriate for foot traffic in and out of the school. It is well-known that the neighborhoods in the proposed area have very few school-age children. Therefore, very few will have the opportunity to walk. Has there been a count of how many students will realistically walk to school along Sheaffer Road? I am aware that a good number of students attending East High Street Elementary walk. Will these same students be expected to walk to the new school? How many additional buses and automobiles will be necessary to get children to school? Furthermore, Shaeffer Road is very narrow and has no sidewalks. Has the board considered the safety of those children that will be required to walk?

The location has additional problems that will negatively affect the proposed school. This area is very damp with a high water table. The proposal calls for a bus parking area, an auto parking area, and a blacktop play area. Has the board planned adequately for the increased run-off due to these impervious surface areas? What impact will this runoff have on residents living down hill from the location, many of which already have draining problems? Has the school board commissioned studies to assure residents “downstream” that the additional run-off will not affect their homes? With the school in low-lying wetlands, have adequate measures been taken to assure the school will not be prone to flooding, mold, and other similar challenges?

I am equally concerned that this new school building is not the most cost-effective solution to overcrowding. Currently, there is plenty of school-owned property adjacent to the existing high school and East High Elementary. Some of this property is leased to the fair. Is the school district fairly compensated for the use of this land, and if so, how much is this compensation? A new school built adjacent to the existing schools will benefit from shared resources and infrastructure. By contrast, a new school on Shaeffer Road will require road improvements, additional traffic lights, installation of sidewalks, and drainage upgrades. Consequently, the district will force Elizabethtown Borough and Mount Joy Township to invest several million dollars in these infrastructural changes. Has the school board and the township considered these hidden costs being passed on to the taxpayer? How much of this expense is the school district required to contribute? Do the taxpayers understand the implications of building at this proposed site? I am skeptical that Elizabethtown Borough has wholeheartedly endorsed this plan. Have borough planners been involved in the discussions and have their concerns been heard?

As this letter demonstrates, there are many, many questions that remain unanswered. This project will impact thousands of individuals for years to come. Common sense dictates that the school board and planning commission not push this six-month old proposal to a hasty conclusion. Instead, it deserves a thorough vetting by the entire community. I hope that the Elizabethtown Area School Board and the Mount Joy Township Planning Commission will be sensitive to the concerns of their constituencies. Though “band-aid” measures (such as portable classrooms) will not solve the problem, they will provide time to involve the greater community thoughtfully and deliberately in this planning process. With time, I am confident the school board and planning commission will find superior solutions to the many problems this proposed plan creates.

Sincerely,

Wendi Kenley

Elizabethtown, PA

Elizabethtown Area School District Intermediate School Road and Traffic Concerns

Citizens in Mount Joy Township and Elizabethtown Borough are concerned that the Elizabethtown Area School District school board and administration are rushing to develop the Bear Creek property into an intermediate 4th through 6th grade school.  The process for developing this proposed school location does not adequately take into consideration the rural characteristics of the roads and intersections, and regional traffic that will be greatly affected by this large district-wide school.  The following information details potential problems with existing roads and intersections, and the potential high cost and complexities of making improvements to handle the traffic that will surely be generated by buses, faculty, staff, service contractors, and parent drop-offs.

Without recognizing these problems and developing a plan for remediation, the school will inevitably be constructed, and the problems will accumulate and will need to be resolved after the fact.  If Mount Joy Township, Elizabethtown Borough, and the school district do not recognize the potential for these problems, then the cost and traffic aggravation will ultimately be passed along to the citizens of Mount Joy Township and Elizabethtown Borough.  There is a need for regional planning for such a large inter-municipality project.  As a minimum, this fast paced process must be paused so there is time to study the regional implications and make the correct regional decisions. Money may have been spent to develop the site plan to this point, but continuing this potentially flawed process can be more costly than starting over in the right direction.

 

Questions that need to be considered and answered include:

-The proposal calls for 100% of the traffic access to the school to be via Sheaffer Road.  If the Bear Creek tract must be used, why is the school not connected to High Street to allow the natural flow of school traffic to this site?

-Why is the borough not included in the traffic impact studies and car counts?  Who decided which intersections and level of study would be conducted?  Let’s get this process right, so that the correct answers are found.

-Why is the school not located among the other existing main school campus buildings to share in existing amenities? These items include:

—Ability of students to walk to school (students now walking Grades 3-6 will now need to be bused)

—Middle school student utilization of the sports facilities without the need to be bused.

Shared school zone and police monitoring of traffic

—Sharing of bus resources for extra curricular activities.

Who is paying for the engineering and reconstruction of the problem roads and intersections? The potential problems are listed below.

-What is the scale and scope of sidewalk construction that will be needed in a 1 mile walking radius of the school?  Is it safe not to put sidewalks on these roads, and risk students walking along roads that do not have shoulders? Who pays for sidewalks: the school district, Mount Joy Township, home owners?

The concerned citizens are not against the plan to construct a new intermediate school.  The plan needs to be carefully reviewed and evaluated for cost and complexity before approval is given to begin construction as the plan currently exists.  Alternative school locations or High Street access to the school needs to be studied, and may in fact be less costly and have less of a traffic and cost impact on the School District, Borough and Mount Joy Township.

Alcohol Policy

by Lily Newhouse

Does Elizabethtown College’s alcohol policy encourage drunk driving? Undoubtedly, the administration would respond with a resounding “no.” But realistically? It’s possible.

Administrators who defend the school’s alcohol policy would also condemn binge drinking – it’s unhealthy, dangerous, and often leads to deteriorating academic performance. But anyone who has been to college knows that binge drinking is the norm.

Page 59 of the 2007-2008 Student Handbook states that “individuals 21 years of age or older may possess alcohol for their personal use in their own living space. The maximum quantity allowed within any housing unit is not more than one six-pack…of beer, or one liter of wine, or one four-pack of wine coolers, or one pint of a distilled alcohol per of-age resident.”

Let’s look at this:
There is a 21-year-old Elizabethtown senior named “Joe.” It’s Friday, and Joe wants to get smashed. Joe’s a Miller Light guy. Being a regular drinker, he cannot achieve his desired state of intoxication – becoming “s–t faced” as Joe likes to call it – from one six-pack. But he doesn’t want to violate the school’s alcohol policy, either. So he drives to the bar. At the bar, Joe drinks Miller Light all night. Then he has to get home.

Joe has a couple of options. He could call a friend, hoping that someone he knows is free to pick him up and is sober. He could call a taxi. There are taxi services in Steelton and Harrisburg, which may take as long as an hour to arrive on a weekend night. Or, Joe could drive.

Obviously this is just one scenario, but it is one that probably happens just about every weekend. Thanks to school policy, Etown students go out to bars – and, let’s face it, how many people are willing to be the designated driver while their friends all get roaring drunk?

Now, this may seem like an inevitable dilemma. The college can’t allow unlimited quantities of alcohol on campus, right? But, this problem does not happen at all schools. Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. is a liberal arts school in a small town, just like Etown. Their alcohol policy is simple: students over 21 are allowed to drink in their dorm rooms. There is no limit, only the requirement that they not serve anyone under 21 and that “behavior that violates the living and study rights of other residents is unacceptable.”

Ironically, Carleton’s policy specifically states that “the College recognizes the particular danger of driving while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Therefore, students are expected never to use such substances and drive.” Carleton allows unlimited (but responsible) drinking on campus to keep students from being tempted to drive drunk.

There is another option. Students who go to school in major cities have public transportation at their disposal – whether it’s the Metro in DC, the subway in New York, the T in Boston, or a public bus system. Students don’t have to worry about driving drunk. They ride drunk and let the city do the driving.

Elizabethtown College is not in a major city, but students in small town colleges can be given safe options, as well. Skidmore College is a college of about Etown’s size in Saratoga Springs, NY. Skidmore provides a van service that runs all the time. It loops around campus and then into town. One of its stops is on Main Street, walking distance to the bars in town.

The administration may say, “We don’t want to encourage drinking on campus.” They may say, “We’re not paying for a van.” But what they’re really saying is, “If you drink off campus and get in a drunk driving accident, that’s your problem.” Is that doing what’s best for the students or the town? Is that the kind of college we want?

When Will We Stand Up Like Daniel Ellsberg

by Lily Newhouse

“A coup has occurred,” said Daniel Ellsberg in a speech at Elizabethtown College. Ellsberg, who is famous for releasing the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, does not argue with President Bush that our country is in danger. He firmly believes we have enemies – but they aren’t Muslims or terrorists. They’re enemies of the U.S. Constitution “and they happen to be the President and Vice President.”

For a few years, I’ve tried to ignore the Bush administration’s actions – they were too depressing. But hearing Ellsberg, I realized that it’s our responsibility to do something about it.

At one time, Ellsberg was a Pentagon employee with 12 clearances above the “top secret” level. On the very day in November 1964 that Ellsberg was planning the massive bombing of Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson was being elected President on a platform of “no wider war.”

But that lie almost seems small in comparison to those the Bush Administration has spun since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 – leading us into a hopeless war with the wrong enemy.
“It would be like after Pearl Harbor we’d bombed Mexico,” Ellsberg said.

But don’t worry. In case we’re getting bored with the “enemy” Iraq, Ellsberg said, the odds favor an attack on Iran in the near future.
He’s right – America is being lied to. We believe the lies, and we believe a lying administration is saving us from our enemy.

Well, the enemy is internal. Democracy is being destroyed from within in order to “protect” us from terrorist activity. And hey, it’s for the “good” of the nation if not the whole world. After all, we saved the Iraqis from an oppressive regime, didn’t we? (Never mind that we supported Hussein for years and sold him weapons – for his war against Iran!) And who needs a Constitution? Wouldn’t we much rather be safe than have a Fourth Amendment?

When Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, he was attacked for betraying his country. “I’ve been called a traitor a lot, and you never really get used to it, even if you know that it’s the opposite of the truth… even if it’s the president endangering American lives.”
Ellsberg may have taken an oath of secrecy, but he also took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States – the same oath that everyone in Congress has taken. In fact, he thinks that he betrayed his country by waiting so long. “I broke that oath in ’64 and ’65 in every week that I kept my mouth shut,” he said.

So where are the whistle blowers today? Secrecy may be necessary to protect national security, but it shouldn’t protect government lies. In a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” shouldn’t the people have the right to know what is actually going on, why we’re really at war and why we are heading towards an even greater one?

Apparently not. So, here’s the question Ellsberg asked: what are we going to do about it?