Aston residents wary of DCIU expansion

Posted: May 31, 2014

As the Delaware County Intermediate Unit plans a $45 million expansion to the Aston Township campus where it has a technical high school, residents are questioning the school's role in their community.

DCIU offers technical training, special education, emotional-support programs, and Head Start preschool to students in Delaware County's 15 school districts. Expanding its Aston campus would allow DCIU to consolidate by moving out of three other buildings in the county, and would increase the number of students in Aston from 400 to 800.

Residents have voiced concern about DCIU's plan to move students with behavioral issues to Aston.

Dozens of neighbors have packed meetings hosted by DCIU this year. The township Board of Commissioners announced last week it had hired an attorney to review plans and, if necessary, fight them in court.

DCIU officials say Aston residents may not understand the agency's role in education. Incidents with students in behavioral programs have "never spilled into the neighborhood," said Ray McFall, DCIU assistant executive director. He said homeowners should not worry that the program's presence in Aston would have a negative effect on their properties.

"I certainly respect their concern, but I don't share their concern," McFall said. "I think that we are good at what we do."

The project would include adding two wings to the building in Aston, McFall said, and renovating the existing technical school, which was built in 1968. The project would remain within DCIU's 14-acre property on Crozerville Road.

The project would allow DCIU to move out of leased buildings in Collingdale, Middletown, and Glen Mills. It also operates schools in Marple and Folcroft.

James Stigale, president of the Board of Commissioners, said commissioners could not voice their opinions before formally reviewing DCIU's plans. But they heard residents' concerns and hired an attorney.

"The purpose of this lawyer is to say whether it's good or bad with our community," Stigale said. "And if we're not happy with the way that the plans are, to make the residents happy, then yes, we'll fight them in court."

If the township goes to court, it would be fighting another taxpayer-funded entity.

School districts in Delaware County make annual payments to DCIU, and pay tuition for students who attend its programs. DCIU's approximately $120 million annual budget also includes funding from the state and federal governments. Other counties have agencies similar to DCIU, which was established in the 1960s when state legislation allowed for technical schools.

In Aston, the county school districts would pay off a bond to complete the expansion project, which McFall said would save money over time compared with leasing space elsewhere in the county.

"We're trying to put a project in place that serves kids and is financially responsible," McFall said.

Carol Cannon of Aston said she understood that DCIU did important work. But she questioned whether behavioral support programs should be in the same building as Head Start and special-education programs.

"I think by trying to put everybody together under one roof, I don't think that's the answer, and I just can't see it happening," she said. "I can't see doing that to the children."

Resident Brian Matteo said he was primarily concerned about increased traffic in his neighborhood, which is next to the Aston campus.

Many of the 800 students would attend the school for only part of the day; others would be there full time, executive director Lawrence O'Shea said.

DCIU has not yet submitted plans to the township, though McFall said he would like the project to begin soon.

"We want to make sure that we're good neighbors," he said, "and we get everything ironed out before we move forward."


lmccrystal@phillynews.com

610-313-8116

@Lmccrystal

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