Chester Upland plans school closings, other moves

Posted: April 19, 2013

Two Chester Upland School District buildings would be closed, students would be transferred, and the Chester High School building would be renamed and redefined under a consolidation plan unveiled Thursday.

The plan is intended to go into effect in September, district officials said.

At a hearing, court-appointed receiver Joseph Watkins unveiled a plan that would close the Smedley school building, home to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) High School, and relocate its students to the Showalter building, which houses an intermediate school program.

The Parry building, which houses the Chester Upland School for the Arts (CUSA), also would close, and its students would be moved to the Toby Farms building.

When released in November, the district's academic and financial recovery plan, of which Watkins was the prime architect, stated that buildings were underused, and called for the closing and sale of some buildings.

The cost of the renovations for the consolidation proposal is about $11 million, said George Crawford, the district's chief financial officer. It will be paid for with loans and by restructuring the district's debt.

Columbus Elementary School was closed in December, with the students moved to other buildings. Last week, Watkins announced he had approved a plan to sell Stetser Elementary School and the administration building to Widener University for $3 million and lease them back at $1 a year.

Widener spokesman Dan Hanson deferred comment on the proposed purchase until the deal is finalized.

When Stetser was identified as a school Watkins proposed to close, some community members objected, noting it is one of the struggling district's better-performing schools. Widener already has joint programs with the school. The revised proposal keeps it open as a school.

The consolidation plan aired Thursday night also calls for Chester High School to be renamed the Chester Upland Education Center. Watkins said the high school portion of the structure would still be called Chester High.

In addition to the district's high school students, the building would accommodate many of the district's seventh and eighth graders and eventually administrative staff. It would also be the site of other programs, including prekindergarten and a community day-care program.

The plan calls for other grade reconfigurations. Stetser and Main Street schools, now kindergarten through fifth grade, and Toby Farms, currently grades six through eight, would be kindergarten through sixth grade. District officials are also looking into adding seventh- and eighth-grade components to the STEM program at Showalter.

Watkins said that he would seek more community input on his proposals and that they could change.

Concerns were raised Thursday about the movement of children, the placing of prekindergartners in the same building as high school students, and the possible loss of the Chester High identity.

Contact Rita Giordano at 610-313-8232, or on Twitter @ritagiordano.

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