Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Bear Creek School Experience, Year 1

This school year, the Elizabethtown Area School District opened its new Bear Creek School, consolidating all fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in one building. Now that it almost has a full school year completed, I'd like to share some thoughts from my perspective as a parent of a fifth-grader.

As with any new building, the start of the school year posed some challenges with busing and a strange odor that caused school to be canceled for one day. And, as district Superintendent Michele Balliet, likes to say, that doesn't account for epic flooding that closed school for a day in September and a freak late-October snowstorm.

After sorting through the challenges, I think Bear Creek found its legs and took off running. At least that's been our son's experience. We have found teachers and staff to be friendly and professional. More important, they have progressively provided more challenging opportunities -- in reading, math and trombone lessons and band -- for our son without our urging. He has responded well to the challenges. In my mind, that's what public school is all about.

Now, let me say that this has been one family's experience with one student. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section about your experiences -- good, bad or indifferent. Given that Bear Creek has 900-some students, I'm sure every family has a slightly different take.

During Bear Creek's planning stages, Borough Council went on record as opposing the location of the school. The primary reason was because there was no walking connection and that the vast majority of students would be bussed there. We were concerned about increased traffic from buses and the dozens of parents who would be dropping off and picking up their students each day. The school district did construct a walking path that connects Bear Creek to the E-town Fairgrounds (which the district owns).

Generally, I think everything has worked well. That said, there's one improvement I'd like to see. Mount Joy Township should widen Bear Creek Road road and install sidewalks at least on one side. Until I started dropping off my son early a few mornings a week, I never realized just how many pedestrians use the road. I've encountered dog walkers, runners, exercise walkers and bicyclists. I've run a number of times there myself. Given the sheer volume of traffic and the pedestrians, it would be a boon to safety to make these improvements.

So now I'll pose the question to you: What improvements would you like to see at Bear Creek School now that it's a year old?


  1. Bear Creek School is by most measures a success - save one: where it was built.

    The walking issue raised by the borough and many residents was 'solved' by constructing a single lane road from the fair grounds to the school and parents were urged to leave students off at the fair grounds for an approximate 5 minute walk to school. It is a lovely path and one I walk frequently, except I have never seen more than half a dozen children (mostly on bikes) use it to/from school and have never seen students dropped off or picked up at the fairgrounds. Monitors are posted along the route to ensure student safety. What was the added cost of this largely unused path? What is the added cost to light it at night and to staff it during school hours?

    Local residents objected to the placement of the school because of: building on known wetlands; increased traffic on an essentially country road; associated safety issues with walkers and bikers; the cost of required infrastructure upgrades; and, with the knowledge that Sheaffer Road would need major reconstruction. All services were available on school land along High Street...and at no added cost. Explanations by the school board included not wanting to disrupt the annual fair and that the fairground land was being evaluated for sports complexes…but that the plans were ‘fluid’. Right.

    The school board listened to the issues and concerns raised – but did not hear them - then went ahead and placed the school at the Bear Creek campus when the more appropriate site was at hand.

    Because of the wetlands issue, highlighted by a truck sinking into the bus parking lot after the lot was completed and ready for use, the entire lot had to be torn up and excavated. A new drainage system was installed at added and unanticipated cost.

    The impact fee the school district paid to Mt. Joy Township will be used for widening and reconstruction of part of Sheaffer Road, which is rapidly deteriorating, and to address water runoff issues which have been known to exist. Water runoff problems may well be worsened by the road work necessitated by greatly increased and heavy traffic caused by the new school. In spite of road improvements and sidewalk installation along Bear Creek Boulevard and some of Sheaffer Road there is ongoing danger of fatal accidents involving pedestrians and bikers. It is highly likely that township taxpayers will bear added costs required for this roadwork and reconstruction which would not have been needed if Bear Creek were along High Street.

    This morning I counted over 20 buses pass my house to and from the school and most of them were less than half full, several with about 6 – 8 students. There also were more than 75 private vehicles with staff, and parents delivering children. Parents either do not know of the request to drop children at the fairgrounds or are not willing to inconvenience them. After the start of school last September the district purchased more buses to handle transport to the new campus. Somehow more buses with a half load or less don’t make sense. I would like to know what the cost of transport per student to/from Bear Creek is. What would it have been to the High Street Campus?

    These and other questions raised by the Bear Creek School’s placement will never be answered. They unfortunately are moot.

    So – we do have a school which is successful; but at what price and unneeded cost to taxpayers of the school district and Mt. Joy Township?

    For more information go to:

    Mahlon (Mal) Fuller

    1. Thanks for your comments, Mal. I think the walking path the district created is great, too. I've used it myself on my bike and running. I've heard from some people wondering why parents would drop off their kids and have them walk from the fairgrounds to the school. Some parents wouldn't trust their kids to behave. Others are concerned about safety. As for your other concerns, I'm of the opinion that the school is where it is now. The township approved the plans and now ought to assess the situation and make necessary improvements. Yes, had the school board decided to build on High Street, they wouldn't be necessary, but there's nothing to be done about that now.

  2. While we still have another year before we get to Bear Creek, I am excited for the opportunities for Katie. I do disagree with widening Bear Creek Road...I feel that it would be worth looking into putting a road along side the walking trail for parents and buses to access. I've thought about the proposal to widen Bear Creek road while driving on it, and it would take a tremendous amount of fill in some areas.

    1. When I first was elected to Borough Council, we discussed a road in that area that would connect East High Street with the Bear Creek area. I think it might even appear on our official map. But as always happens, it comes down to money. We would also need support from Mount Joy Township. And with the school district's plans to use the fairgrounds as athletic fields, a road would bisect the fields. District officials were concerned about safety.

  3. My wife and I walk our dogs at the fairgrounds almost daily, and the new walking path has been great. A sidewalk on at least one side of Bear Creek Road is definitely needed, and it would make it even easier for the surrounding communities to access each other by foot.

    Mal, just FYI, there are definitely more than a half dozen students using that path daily during the school year. On some days there are clearly several dozen students walking home from Bear Creek in the afternoon -- many being picked up by car at the fairgrounds and others walking to their homes in the Foxchase neighborhood. The path is definitely being used by students, as well as the community.

    1. I agree with you about the sidewalk on Bear Creek Road, Michael. Maybe there were always pedestrians there, but there's definitely more traffic. From a safety standpoint, it just makes sense.

    2. Jeff,
      Sorry but you come off being misinformed which might explain how the school ended up at that location in the first place. The Borough should have stuck by the original opposition to the location. It is the duty of elected officials to work together for the best interests of the entire community. The zoning permitted the school, and had to ultimately approve the plans, but that fact alone did not make it a good location. You commented “The Township approved the plans and now ought to assess the situation and make necessary improvements. Yes, had the school board decided to build on High Street, they wouldn't be necessary, but there's nothing to be done about that now.”

      Putting the school at that location amounts to an unfunded mandate placed on Mt Joy Township. So the result is, the Taxpayers of Mount Joy Township are left footing the bill for the Ill-advised location of a regional school. Sitting on the Borough side of the fence, there will be no cost to you, so it is easy to say, the school is what it is, so the township needs to step up and add sidewalks here and widen roadways there.

      Don’t hold your breath on any substantial improvements, because what you suggest is beyond the means of the Mt Joy Township. The section of the roadway from Hickory Run drive will not be widened (announced last week) due to the cost of enlarging the banks and dealing with runoff. The cost of widening the roadway was brought up routinely as a major reason not to locate the school on that rural roadway. The school board announced the school location, and basically said from that point on, don’t bore us with facts, we already have our mind made up.

      If you want improvements, start working with the Township and extend College Avenue. As far as I know, there is not inter-municipality cooperation to improve the access to the school. Don’t count on Mt Joy Township to solve the issue alone.


    3. The borough Council did not drop its opposition to the location of Bear Creek. I spoke on behalf of Borough Council at a school board hearing on the matter, and I know the borough staff voiced their concerns with the EASD administration numerous times before the township approved the plans.

      Of course it's easy for me to sit here and say the township should or shouldn't do something, just like township supervisors say Borough Council ought to do something about the intersection at Maytown Road and Market Street. The thing is, we have regional meetings where all of us get together and discuss these topics and try to hash out solutions to complicated and expensive problems.

    4. Jeff,
      Fair enough. I recall you speaking at the school board hearing about the school. To my knowledge there was not a single regional meeting where the School Board reached out to discuss the school project. I don’t think the regional school was ever a regional meeting agenda item. If I recall, the school district announced the project and the location and pretty much did not entertain any discussions on the issue. Is that correct?

      More information including residents seeking assistance from the Lancaster County Planning commission can be found here.


  4. Steve -- Sorry for the delay in publishing. In my time on Borough Council, Bear Creek was not an agenda topic at any of the regional meetings we've had. While council and the school board have made deliberate attempts to interact, they haven't been at any of the regional meetings.


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