Letter to Lancaster County Planning Commission about Bear Creek Proposal

As concerned citizens from Elizabethtown Borough, Mount Joy Township, and other surrounding municipalities, we respectively submit this document outlining our concerns regarding the Bear Creek Intermediate School proposal.

We recognize the need for additional classroom space as well as the difficulties associated with a project of this size.  We believe Lancaster County’s Long Range Transportation Plan (referred to simply as the Charter for Change) should be a guiding document in such complex projects.  Interestingly, the Bear Creek proposal appears to contradict many of the principles in the Charter for Change.  We request you consider these concerns as you review the proposal submitted by the school district.

  1. The proposed school has numerous transportation challenges
    • The proposed location is not easily accessible for foot and bike traffic.  Even the closest neighborhoods cannot walk or bike due to narrow roads and the lack of sidewalks. To make for a more “walkable” school, the district has proposed a walking path connecting High Street with the Bear Creek location.  Unfortunately, this proposed path winds through an isolated, wooded area making it impractical for children 9 to 11 years old.
    • The proposed location is not easily accessible for auto traffic.  Sheaffer Road (and many of the surrounding artillery roads) is rural and not suitable for the increased car and bus traffic a school of this size will require.  Because of its limited access, this school site is not easily accessible by car from many parts of the surrounding community. 
    • The school district could increase accessibility by building an access road to East High Street.  This would alleviate traffic on the more rural roads and make the school more accessible for emergency vehicles, parents, and staff.  Elizabethtown Borough also supports the construction of such an access road.  However, the school district opposes the road, claiming it will negatively affect its athletic facilities master plan.  This plan, however, shows that such a road can be constructed with minimal impact.
    • The district could also increase accessibility (as well as save on transportation and fuel costs) by placing the school on district-owned land next to East High Elementary rather than isolating it from the main school campus.
  2. The proposed school has numerous infrastructural challenges
    • The rural roads accessing the school site will need significant improvements to handle the car traffic a school this size will require.  The school district plans to improve Sheaffer Road from the school entrance to Ridge Road.  No other improvements are slated. 
    • The sidewalks surrounding this school are unsuitable for any foot traffic.  Only very recently (June 2008) did the district announce the construction of one sidewalk from the corner of Sheaffer Road to Violet’s Path (approximately 100 yards).  No other sidewalks exist within the traffic study area.
    • By making the new school more accessible to the existing campus (either by locating the school on High Street or by building an access road connecting to High Street), the new school would share much of the existing infrastructure.
  3. The proposed school deserves and requires inter-municipal cooperation
    • Both Elizabethtown Borough and Mount Joy Township have requested greater cooperation with the school district regarding this proposal. Elizabethtown Borough strongly suggested the district place the new school on district-owned land next to East High Elementary.  Despite the borough’s serious concerns with the Bear Creek location, the district continues with its plans.  Since this proposed school will affect the community for years to come, it needs to be thoroughly vetted by both citizens and elected officials.  In short, it needs the “blessing” of the local municipalities.
  4. The proposed school deserves and requires thorough planning
    • The school district states that this project began in 2005 and that it has been well publicized.  While the “growth” planning began in 2005, the school district did not announce this specific plan for Bear Creek Intermediate School until July 2007.  Prior to that time, the district was planning to renovate East High Street Elementary and use that building as an intermediate school.  Additionally, a conservation center was to be built in Bear Creek wetlands that will now house the intermediate school. 
    • The traffic study did not include all roads within a 1-mile radius.  Instead, it covered only those roads within Mount Joy Township boundaries.  There are intersections of serious concern (for example, Chestnut Street and College Avenue, Mount Joy Street and College Avenue, Chestnut Street and Park Street) that were not included in the study.  The traffic study also failed to take into account traffic associated with Elizabethtown College.
    • The district has only very recently (June 2008) made public their “Athletic Facilities Master Plan.”  The district explains that the Bear Creek Project is integrally tied to the athletics plan.  If this is true, both deserve more reflection and input than the proposed construction timetable allows.
    • Placing the school along High Street on district-owned land seems to be a more logical move when considering transportation, infrastructure, and municipality desires.  It appears that the district, when planning its future land-use options, does not want to sacrifice any of its extracurricular wants (athletic facilities) for its curricular needs (classrooms).

We appreciate your taking time to consider the impact this school will have on Elizabethtown Borough, Mount Joy Township and the surrounding municipalities.  We believe that this project can be the “flagship project” in implementing the Charter for Change. 



[1] According to Charter for Change, “existing patterns of travel and land use are not sustainable in the long term—we will have to change our travel habits out of practical necessity.”  The plan “supports changes in school sitting requirements at the state level to locate schools in areas that can be reached by bicycling and walking.”  It calls for “compact urban forms [to] promote efficient use of land and efficient transportation.”  It also suggests “land use planning should promote multimodal transportation.”  Desired characteristics for transportation include:  “roadways [that] are context-sensitive and upgraded with trees and landscaping; transportation systems [with which] environmental impacts are minimized; [and] systems [which] conserve land, water, historic, and cultural resources, and encourages reduced energy consumption.”  See Charter for Change.

[2] See the district’s Campus Athletic Facilities Study on the EASD school web site for information regarding this walking path.  The pathway is marked with a dashed line.

[3] See the district’s Campus Athletic Facilities Study on the EASD school web site

[4] The Charter for Change warns us that “though improvement needs are increasing, tax revenues to address those needs are threatened by a slowing economy and competing demands on limited resources.”  See Charter for Change.

[5] See Posts in editorials on this site for letters from Elizabethtown Borough and Mount Joy Township.

[6] The Charter for Change calls on “government and other organizations [to work] together to achieve mutual transportation goals.”  See Charter for Change.

EASD Updates FAQs on Bear Creek Project

Visit the Elizabethtown Area School District website to access “Frequently Asked Questions” on the district’s Bear Creek Intermediate Elementary School project. The FAQs were updated on June 5, 2008 to include information on walkable schools, why not the fairgrounds and the impact the project will have on taxes.

The district developed the FAQs to help community members better understand the proposal. The FAQs contain answers to a wide variety of questions including the need for the school, timeline for the project, the benefits of the grade level configuration, why the location was selected, the fiscal implications of the project and much more. To access the FAQs, click on the link below or visit the website at www.etownschools.org:

Bear Creek FAQs (updated)

School Board is Still Walking the Wrong Path

The Elizabethtown Area School Board seems to be really proud of the fact that they figured out how to make Bear Creek into a walkable school, and thus not have to stand up to the logical criticism for going against common sense smart growth initiatives.  The problem is they are still walking down the wrong path!  This recent development is telling on many levels. 

 #1 It’s obvious that walkability was not a consideration when choosing this school location.  It took feedback from the borough, township and citizens to wake them up to this fact.

#2  The School District is entirely missing the point of walkable schools.  Their “solution” clearly misses the point that they need to place the school in close proximity to the population center, so as many kids as possible can walk or bike to school.  Bear Creek is NOT the location for this initiative.  High Street comes far closer to this goal.  We do need to thank them for pointing out the obvious, that kids coming in from far corners of the school district will not be able to walk.  We can save this one for another argument, i.e, why are you bussing kids that used to be able to walk grades 4-5 at their local schools?

#3  In order to “convert” this school into a walking location, the school board is proposing to throw an extra ½ million dollars towards adding sidewalks and a lighted pathway with the “possibility” of security cameras.  This is on top of an anticipated $410,000.00 plus in impact fees in their budget.  When we talk about “duplication of Services” that exists on High Street, this is exactly what troubled taxpayers are referring too.  Now we start to get an idea of the costs of duplicating services!

So, it appears that choosing this Bear Creek location is going to cost nearly 1 million dollars in additional impact fees to duplicate services, compared to placing the school on High Street where the services currently exist.  They proclaim “we will widen and improve the roads and add sidewalks along Sheaffer Road”.  Sounds easy right?  Did they seriously take a look at the difficulties and costs they are going to encounter?  Fortunately other posts on the Editorial site point out the cost and complexities of these improvements. 

Hickory Run has 36 houses with few school age children, and Hickory Court has only one family with school children.  What is the cost per child to add walking capability to this remote section of Shaeffer Road?

Any reasonable person can see that this School Board is ready willing and possibly able to stand by this poor choice, and will readily spend your tax dollars to make a round school plug into a square location.  Fortunately, the Mount Joy Township planning Commission is skeptical, the Borough is against the plan, and Citizens have asked pointed questions through the Act 34 process.  The burden is on the School District to explain why the obvious High Street location is not being used, and they must provide numbers for the difference in cost.  They are kidding themselves if they think their posted FAQ’s answer these questions.  If the proper evaluation of location costs is not provided, and the questions posed through the Act 34 process are not answered in detail (See Bear Scat Post), the citizens will certainly see that the PA Department of Education gets to make that call.  Money saving taxpayer owned school land is not being used for school purposes-plain and simple.  Duplication of services that exist on High Street is a waste of taxpayer money, and detracts from money that can used to provide quality education. 

The School Board must justify their decisions.  If they cannot adequately do this, then they must consider modular units to alleviate short term crowding issues and come back with a rational plan.  It will save an enormous amount of money in the long run, and alleviate the regional traffic headaches of accessing and supporting this remote school in the long term.

 

 

 

 

Bear Scat

On May 20 I sent this letter to all Elizabethtown Area School District Board Members:

I am troubled by issues raised on the We-Town website about the proposed Bear Creek School. Please see http://www.wetown.org/index.php/2008/05/16/how-the-bear-creek-school-will-affect-you/.

Why is building on school property currently used by the Elizabethtown Fair not a viable option? Is the infrastructure (water, sewer, power, public access via existing roads) more adequate along Sheaffer Road? What did cost comparison for placement and/or improvement of existing infrastructure at the Bear Creek site vice East High Street reveal? Would East High Street require extensive upgrades to accommodate additional traffic load? Will Sheaffer Road and roads which connect to Sheaffer Road near the Bear Creek site require upgrades? Do you know the cost to the tax payers of road improvements/upgrades which will be needed at both sites?

Does the district know the impact of increased traffic along both corridors? It seems to me that 1100 students will require 22 buses if 50 students are carried on each bus. This scenario projects 44 bus round trips to/from the school a day. If ten percent of the parents elect to drive their students to/from school, an additional 220 round trips can be expected. Is it wise to build a school to which no student can walk? What are the projected transportation costs to the Bear Creek facility over the course of its life? Would placement along East High Street diminish these costs?

It is evident that a new educational facility is needed and I applaud the board and district for planning ahead. I ask that all costs to the taxpayer be considered and weighed carefully.

Mahlon R. Fuller

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On May 22 Jamie Rowley, board president, responded via email:

Dear Mahlon Fuller,

I appreciate the communication received May 22nd regarding your questions of the Bear Creek Project. Many of the points raised are addressed on the district’s website and will continual (sic) to be updated in on-going communications. I have attached a link for your review. Obviously I and the district (sic) can address any questions you have that may not have been addressed to date. There is also an update in the Chronicle today, as well as, a letter going out to district residents with information. We remain committed to keeping the public informed through these various sources.

Thank you for your comments.

Sincerely,

Jamie Rowley

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My email response to Mr. Rowley sent May 22 was:

Dear Jamie Rowley –

Thanks for your quick response.

Would you or a member of the administration be kind enough to answer questions I raised in my letter of 5/20 which are not answered in the sources you cite?

Thanks,

Mahlon Fuller

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No further communication has been received.

I was unable to find answers to most of my questions in the information Mr. Rowley supplied. I did learn, however, that the school district will provide an additional $500,000 for ‘improvements’ along Sheaffer Road. A paved and lighted path with ‘added security measures’ – read video cameras and/or a phone system – proposed from East High Street to the Bear Creek property will also be funded at an unspecified cost. The price will not be small. If the added cost is $1,000,000 to ensure a walkable school, I submit we will spend too much; I hold that the cost of improvements along Sheaffer Road may rival the recent upgrade of Cloverleaf and Schwanger Roads. Add the unspecified ‘traffic impact fee’ the district will pay to local governments and the bill to taxpayers may exceed the million dollar mark by an astounding amount. Will the traffic impact fee, in fact, cover all added road and safety improvements? Will the borough and township be stuck with unanticipated, unbudgeted expenses?

Are these expenditures necessary? There is land available along East High Street for the new school presently used by the Elizabethtown Fair. This land will not require extensive and expensive road renovation. Is the administration addressing citizen questions via information on the school district web site and ‘Bear Creek FAQ’s’? I think not.

Nonspecific answers are being given to specific questions; it seems like bear scat to me. You be the judge. Ask the questions. Demand answers. Insist our elected representatives and the paid staff of the school district work for you.

Mahlon R. Fuller

P & J’s Pizza on E. High St not handicapped accessible

A good friend of mine who live on N. Spruce St enjoys a nice pizza now and again especially from P & J’s on E. High, since it’s right down the street. Over the years his handicap has worsened and this past year he has been stuck in a wheel chair with little hope of recovery. He has pointed out to me the different places he is unable to get into around town now. The biggest complaint he has is that now he can no longer go to P & J’s pizza because he is unable to get up the three steps in the front of the building AND the rear entrance has one step as well. The rear entrance of the building has been described as “for staff only”. When asked about why handicapped people can’t get into P & J’s, one employee has been quoted as saying, “it’s been like this for years, why do we need to change things now?”. As he put’s it, “we have been grandfathered in”. How true this “grandfather clause” is, I don’t know. What I do know is my friend can no longer go to P & J’s because handicapped people can’t get into the building. Mr. Williams is quick to point out that they are not the only inaccessible building in Etown, just that P & J’s pizza is the one that disturbs him the most b/c he has been a loyal customer for years and when a family member asked them about it, their response was very cold and unforgiving. It was “like they didn’t care”.

Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania Citizen Journalism