The question of whether to build a new school has been tossed around in the Belle Vernon Area School District over the last two years. Discussion among board members in recent months has pointed to the growth taking place in the district as a reason to look at new facilities.
However, a recent study by Shelby Stewman of Stewman Demographics and professor of Demography and Sociology at Carnegie-Mellon University does not agree with the past discussions.
‘With one exception, all the municipalities are declining,’ said Stewman. ‘Some are declining very fast.’
The school district had a decrease of 8 percent in births for the last five years, he explained, or 977 total births compared to 1,063 births during the years 1991-1995.
Fayette City Borough, according to Stewman, is the sole municipality experiencing a gain -13 percent- although its births account for only 5 percent of the district’s total births in the last five years.
‘It’s a teeny area, not unimportant,’ said Stewman. ‘It can grow and still you won’t have an effect because the other (municipalities) will swamp it in numbers that are going down faster than (the number in Fayette City) can go up.’
During the same five-year period Belle Vernon and North Belle Vernon Boroughs experienced major decreases in the number of births, minus 25 percent and minus 22 percent respectively.
Although Rostraver and Washington Townships are the two largest municipalities in the district both in terms of population and area, they also experienced declines in the number of births, minus 4 percent and minus 8 percent respectively.
‘The decreases will begin to have an effect in the 2001 to 2005 kindergarten classes, with ripple effects as they move upward in grade level,’ said Stewman. ‘The net downturn in births further underscores the importance of new residential construction and in-migration to counter these decreases. The bottom line is that it’s going to take approximately 1,000 new homes, which will; I expect to come here, to compensate for the drop in birth rates. That’s how important it is.’
According to the report, almost all new residential construction has taken place in Rostraver and Washington Townships, with Rostraver’s level about five to 10 times that of Washington, due to the lack of sewerage in Washington.
Stewman explained that Rostraver had about 500 new homes built from 1990-2000 while the estimate for Washington is 50-100 new homes.
‘Given the recent change in access to the Belle Vernon sewerage supply for Washington Township, however, a major change is expected for this township over the next five years,’ explained Stewman. ‘Also, given the expansion in sewerage coverage in Rostraver Township, an increase level of construction is also expected there.’
Stewman predicts that given the past level of construction in Rostraver Township, the upward shift is not expected to be as great as that in Washington Township. The overall level, though, is expected to be about twice that of Washington Township over the next 10 years.
‘This study, I think, brings a heavy dose of reality to the table,’ commented district superintendent Dr. Charles Chandler. ‘I assumed when I came here that this was such a growing area I looked for the population to grow as well. And the reality is we are growing in some areas and in some ways, but we’re also losing in other areas. It appears (the population) is going to be a flat line.’
‘Each of the nine board members have had and still have their viewpoints of the growth in the area,’ he continued, ‘I had mine, and now with Mr. Stewman’s report it gives us a common ground that we can plan the next level.’
Chandler said he thought it was very important to do the study and defended the $5,000 cost for the report.
‘When you’re talking about the potential of spending $25 to $35 million or more on a school, $5,000 is well spent,’ he said.
According to Chandler, the state projection for last year was off by almost 100 students.
‘We had 100 less students than what was projected,’ he said. ‘That has since been corrected and changes constantly.’