The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

March 26, 2013

District approves asbestos test at Rachel Hill school

JOHNSTOWN — When Richland School District’s Rachel Hill Elementary opened its doors to students in 1960, state officials called it a model of cost efficiency.

Built for $497,272, nearly $200 below the statewide per-student average cost at the time, the school’s basic, rectangular design used cement block walls instead of plaster and simple skylights to brighten its 18 classrooms.

Six years after its schoolhouse days ended, district officials indicated they’ll soon aim for a new taxpayer-friendly price tag for Rachel Hill – one that will either bring new life to the school – or bring it down.

Board members took the first step toward both options Monday, accepting a Shanks-ville company’s $650 offer to test for asbestos in the old school.

“No matter what we do with Rachel Hill – whether we sell it, fix it or bulldoze it – we’re the ones responsible for asbestos abatement,” Superintendent Thomas Fleming said.

The board gave permission for Allegheny Mountain Re-search to collect samples inside the school.

Allegheny Mountain expects to test as many as 10 samples, including some from generations-old floor tiles, and will then provide an estimate to remove the fibrous material, Fleming told the board.

Rachel Hill’s future remains unclear, but there seems to be renewed interest in exploring renovation possibilities.

Once renovated, the building could be leased as office space or brought back in line as a district-owned tutoring hub or day care center – if the price is right, board members said.

The district potentially could partner with existing agencies to put new programs such as an early childhood education center in place at Rachel Hill, Fleming said.

“Maybe another school could move in there. Maybe offices,” board member Anthony Rizzo said.

The district still uses the site for some storage, but administrators described parts of the building as unusable last year when they were fielding offers for the property surrounding it.

At the time, an Ohio developer proposed a shopping center on the land, but district residents, concerned about added traffic and losing a district practice field, convinced board members to shoot down the idea.

“We have an asset just sitting there on a nice piece of property,” Rizzo said, adding that it will be up to the board to find a fit for the site that doesn’t disrupt the campus environment and “hopefully, will save taxpayers money.”

“This first step is to see what it’ll take to get it up and running again,” Fleming said. “Is it economically wise ... and what would the return on that investment be? We don’t know yet.”


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