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Renovate Or Repurpose?: The Contested Future Of Corl Street Elementary

A white sign that says Corl Street Elementary School in front of school
Talia Cowen


 There could be a shake up in State College Area School District’s elementary schools with the new District-Wide Facilities Master Plan. Under the plan, Lemont’s K-2 elementary school will likely be repurposed, while Houserville and Radio Park are being considered for renovation or new construction projects. However, the fate of Corl Street Elementary remains less clear. 

 Randy Brown is the Business Administrator of the district. He said there are several different possible outcomes for Corl Street under the District-Wide Facilities Master Plan currently under review by the school board.

"At Corl Street the options are to renovate with a possible addition, or to repurpose," Brown said. "Repurpose would mean to find a different use for the district or it could mean sell the building as we’ve done in a couple other situations.”

Brown noted that there are many factors the school board takes into account when making these decisions.

“So, part of it will be a financial decision, but it's also based upon the demographics and the voice of the community,” he said.

Brown explained financial concerns with Corl Street mainly have to do with its operational costs and smaller size.

“Well, it is the smallest school by attendance area, by student enrollment in our district, and because of that it does have some operational inefficiencies, obviously it has some of our smallest class sizes that we experience throughout the district—which some people think to be obviously an advantage and are appreciative of—but that does put some cost constraints on us,” Brown said.

Many community members—including Stephanie Perles—see the small, community-based nature of the school as one of its greatest assets. Perles is one of the leaders of the burgeoning campaign to renovate Corl Street. Perles noted that the walkability of the school is a huge asset to the community and the school’s students.

“Half of the kids at Corl walk to school and every morning these students are walking together, seeing each other, the parents get to see the teachers before and after school," Perles said. "On the way home from school there’s impromptu play-dates and the kids play at the park. The older children at the elementary school can actually walk and bike on their own, which is a great sense of responsibility, and they know the people on the way to school. There are crossing guards that know everybody’s name. It’s really the heart of the community.”

Another active member in the campaign is Terrill Salter. She had concerns about the impacts closing Corl Street would have on other parts of the district.

“We feel that this is not just a Corl Street issue this is a district-wide issue,” Salter said. "If they close Corl Street, our 230 kids will have to go somewhere. They’re renovating Radio Park, and it will likely become significantly bigger than it is now. Our students might go to Ferguson and Easterly, and if those schools get full, those students may move farther out. We truly believe this affects everyone in the district."

Perles said she’s also worried about the wider implications that repurposing Corl Street would have on the region, even for those without school-aged children.

“Where the school board sites the schools, and where the schools are located have huge implications for the development patterns around our town....where homes are built, where families choose to move to, traffic patterns, the preservation of farm and forest on the outskirts of town, so this isn't just about the neighbors, it will affect the whole region,” Perles said.

Brown said the school board is taking parents' concerns into account, but there are practical concerns, too.

"We're looking for the best model," Brown said, "but we are trying to balance that, because the board is charged as the governing body to be fiscally responsible and so we’re looking at all taxpayers, all students, and trying to balance the needs, the wants, the desires and what we can afford.”

These are all issues the school board will consider when they decide the fate of Corl Street in late September or early October. The next public feedback meeting for the District-Wide Facilities Master Plan will be June 16 at 7 p.m. at Mount Nittany Middle School.