Neshaminy to reexamine contentious school consolidation plan

Posted: September 12, 2013

A twist in a series of regional school construction projects came Tuesday night in the Neshaminy School District, where the school board announced that it would reexamine a contentious $50 million school consolidation plan because of concerns about its financial viability.

The plan had run into impassioned opposition. It would have replaced three aging elementary schools with one new facility for about 1,200 students. Officials said the new building was a necessary investment because the old schools were draining district resources.

But because of higher interest rates, the board's president, Ritchie Webb, said Tuesday, the district can no longer pay for the plan without raising taxes. In the coming months, a committee will evaluate cheaper options, he said.

"You've got to live within the budget," Webb said.

A number of districts in the region have undertaken construction projects recently.

In Bucks County, districts including Bristol Township and Bensalem Township have proposed spending tens of millions of dollars to renovate or build schools.

Bristol has proposed closing nine elementary schools and combining them in three new buildings. The project was expected to cost more than $150 million, but interest rates have eaten into the district's borrowing power, and Superintendent Samuel Lee said plans were still being finalized.

Chester County's Unionville-Chadds Ford School District completed a $55 million renovation and expansion of its high school in January, according to Rick Hostetler, the district's supervisor of buildings and grounds.

The Wallingford-Swarthmore School District in Delaware County is undertaking a $16.5 million project to renovate and expand Nether Providence Elementary School, according to Superintendent Richard Noonan. In past years, the district completed similar renovations to its middle school and another elementary school, he said.

Noonan, like officials in other districts including Neshaminy, said the projects were necessary to reduce costs associated with maintaining aging buildings and provide facilities better equipped for current student populations.

Many Neshaminy residents said the consolidation plan would diminish community schooling.

Last month, opponents delivered a petition with about 1,200 signatures calling for the consolidation to be put on November's ballot.

The board's decision Tuesday means the referendum was not needed, and was greeted at the meeting by applause.

Webb said after the meeting that he hoped the committee would have a new recommendation by January.

Contact Chris Palmer at 609-217-8305,, or on Twitter @cs_palmer.

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