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Public Input Sought on Future of Former School Building

A public meeting is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 16, to discuss the future of the former school building on Poplar Street that is now used as a community center.

And although one might expect it to be held in the community center, it isn’t. Lisa Clemens of the architecture firm Murphy and Dittenhafer, who is leading the discussion, explained that the community center holds so many events that she couldn’t book the meeting there. Instead, it is being held in the back meeting room at Funk Brewing, 28 S. Market St., Elizabethtown.

The community center is run by Greater Elizabethtown Area Recreation & Community Services, which is a consortium of Elizabethtown Borough, West DonegalTownship, Mount Joy Township and the Elizabethtown Area School District. The GEARS community center is home to the Elizabethtown Senior Center, to child care and a wide variety of GEARS programs.

“I believe in the value of adaptive reuse of existing downtown buildings,” Clemens said at a meeting of the Elizabethtown Rotary Club on Monday, May 6. Clemens said early to mid-20th century buildings were constructed to last a long time and have architectural elements like slate walkways and hardwood floors that are seldom seen in more recent architecture.

However, Clemens noted that older buildings tend to be inefficient in the use of energy and often are inaccessible to people with disabilities.

“These old buildings are full of challenges,” Clemens said, which is why there is often a temptation to knock them down and start over from scratch.

“We’ve come to live in a throwaway society,” Clemens said.

She said her firm had been approached to conduct a feasibility study for the building and its grounds, which is being paid for by a grant from the state.

Mark A. Hackenburg, a principal with Lancaster-based landscape architecture firm RGS Associates, said there will be significant challenges with the building. Currently, only the ground floor is in use, but the classrooms on the second floor would provide additional activity space. However, Hackenburg noted that most people using that space will need parking, something that was not an issue when it was a school building where students arrived on foot or by bus.

Clemens said the Poplar Street building will not be large enough for the region’s total recreation needs. Buildings that could be used include the current Moose Lodge building, which the fraternal organization has put up for sale; the space that became vacant when Darrenkamp’s supermarket went out of business, and the Mill Road Elementary School building, which might close if the Elizabethtown Area School District decides to expand Rheems Elementary School.

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