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Turtle Creek at odds over future of aging school

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Brian Bowling
Thursday, October 4, 2007

The fight over East Junior High School in the Woodland Hills School District stands out from other consolidation battles because the struggle isn’t so much over where children will go to school but what will happen to the school building in Turtle Creek.

The Committee to Save Turtle Creek High School — the name the building once carried — has fought efforts to demolish and replace, or even significantly alter, the building.

Bob Mock, a member of the group, said the building defines Turtle Creek.

“This building is the most important building in our town,” Mock said. “It’s really the only park-like setting we have in our town. The whole town is built around it.”

The group achieved a milestone Aug. 30 when the National Park Service put the building on its National Register of Historic Places. Historic status doesn’t make the building demolition-proof, but limits how the district can use federal money to alter the school.

Linda Cole, a school board member, said East Junior High is deteriorating and the group’s opposition has kept the district from making the building handicapped accessible or otherwise modernizing the school. Getting the building on the national register just made matters worse, she said.

“They basically did this so we would not be able to remodel,” Cole said.

Although the district originally looked at renovation or demolition and replacement, the board voted March 14 to start the process of closing the school and moving students to West Junior High School in Swissvale. The board has scheduled a final vote on closing East Junior High for Oct. 10.

Cole said the board’s options have changed over the years because of declining enrollments. With fewer junior high students, the question isn’t how to replace an aging school but how to best educate the remaining students, she said.

Mock said annual test results show East Junior High is one of the few schools in the district that is meeting federal No Child Left Behind standards.

District spokeswoman Maria McCool said West Junior High School only failed to meet the standards with its special education students, so the two schools are practically even on academic achievement. The district’s analysis of the schools shows that West is in better physical condition, which is why the board is considering closing East.

Brian Bowling can be reached at or 412-320-7910.

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