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INDIANA: Annexation under review for high school

by CHAUNCEY ROSS on March 25, 2013 11:00 AM

If they can’t bring the police into the school, perhaps they can bring the school to the police.

In a bid to improve safety and security at Indiana Area Senior High School, some Indiana school board members want to know if the high school campus could be annexed into Indiana Borough from White Township.

The school board, at its semimonthly meeting this evening, will consider whether to commission a feasibility study of making the school a part of the borough and placing it under jurisdiction of Indiana Borough Police Department.

The study is one of several security-related items on the board’s published agenda.

The concept arose after school officials were turned down in requests to arrange for Indiana Borough police, as the nearest and theoretically the fastest responders, to be the first to answer emergency calls for three schools in White Township — the senior high and East Pike and Ben Franklin Elementary schools.

Officials of the district, the township, the borough and state police didn’t agree on who has authority to empower another police department to respond to areas primarily patrolled by Pennsylvania State Police.

Making the high school a part of the borough is a recommendation of the school district’s buildings and grounds committee.

“The bottom line is that for whatever reason we ran into several issues becuase of various political bodies involved, the township and borough and school district,” said committee Chairman Walter Schroth. “In trying to get those coordinated … the question became one of whether the high school could be annexed to the borough. Then we could essentially extend the borough coverage by eliminating the problems with the conflict between various political bodies.”

The senior high grounds border Indiana Borough at the rear of properties on the north side of Clark Street. The rest of the school property faces North Fifth Street, Knox Avenue and residential properties along North Sixth Street, all in White Township.

The district recently purchased a property at 531 N. Sixth St., from Robert and Beth Klar, with the intent to build a second driveway for motorists heading to and from the school. The only access now is from North Fifth Street.

“We understand … that this is a complicated process because it could take certain legal procedures,” Schroth said this morning. “It’s a concept we believe should at least be explored. Whether the board decides to go through with it remains to be seen. We neeed to know, does it make sense and does it help us?”

Because the school is a tax-exempt property, its change from the township to the borough would have no effect on the real estate tax revenues for either municipality. Whether adjacent parts of North Fifth Street and Knox Avenue might fall to Indiana Borough for maintenance and police patrol remains unseen, but would be studied, Schroth said.

“I have no idea how this would unfold. The gist is to look at the property itself,” he said. “It may take negotiations” to complete an annexation.

Security enhancements and increased police presence have been priority topics for the school board since the mass killings in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

In conjunction with stepping up police patrols, the board will consider authorizing the administration to negotiate with state police for up to 40 hours a week of police protection for schools in White Township, and with Indiana Borough police for additional protection for schools in the borough: Horace Mann and Dwight Eisenhower elementary schools and Indiana Area Junior High School.

The school board this evening also will consider an estimated $860,000 worth of security-related improvements to the schools, to be funded from the capital projects budget, including:

  • Telephone system replacements, $120,000
  • Public address system replacements, $60,000
  • Video surveillance equipment, $100,000
  • Interior door replacement or modification, $550,000
  • Additional exterior door card-access systems, $30,000

Schroth’s committee will recommend further study of main entrance upgrades, exterior door replacements, physical barriers and protection of ground-level windows. Costs have not been determined.

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