In the small boroughs and rural townships that make up Upper Perkiomen School District in northwest Montgomery County, a debate rages over the proposal for a $58 million middle school.
The student population in these communities on the fringe of the Philadelphia region has grown each year this decade and is forecast to continue growing into the next.
Now, three weeks until a hearing on the new building, some residents are growing anxious at the prospect of higher taxes that would come along with the cost of a new school.
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The school board, after debating new construction versus expansion of existing buildings earlier this year, chose to invest in a new middle school.
Superintendent Alexis McGloin said taxes would go up $484 over the next four years on properties assessed at $200,000. She said that represents a 8.6 percent increase.
"We haven’t had a project like this in a long time," she said. "It’s something very valuable to the school district."
But a local business owner and her son have calculated that taxes would go up as much as 34 percent in four years.
Melanie Cunningham, owner of Titanium Finishing Co. in East Greenville, said the estimate was based on her son's Hereford Township home.
"I just don’t think this area can be saddled with this debt," said Cunningham, who lives in Upper Hanover and owns 10 properties in the regional district. "By the time the public gets up to speed on this, it'll be approved."
McGloin disagrees with Cunningham's figures, and added that she's confident future budgets will stay under state-mandated caps on annual tax increases -- even with the added cost of a new school.
The regional district serves seven municipalities: East Greenville, Green Lane, Pennsburg, Red Hill, Marlborough and Upper Hanover in Montgomery County, and Hereford in Berks County.
Next year, the district's only middle school, at Fifth and Jefferson streets in East Greenville, will turn 70 years old. It has had five additions built onto it since its construction in 1947.
"The feasibility study shows that the building enrollment is currently exceeding the functional capacity of approximately 768 students," a report on the proposed new school said.
Originally, the building was the East Greenville High School, and became a middle school in 1966.
"The District does not believe it would be prudent to once again expand an aging building," the report said, adding that the building is "currently in fair condition."
It would be converted into a school for fourth and fifth graders under the proposal.
The current middle school is already over capacity and there is "clearly" a need to improve infrastructure, according to a recent district report.
The public hearing is Jan. 4 and is required by the state Department of Education for districts seeking new construction.
Cunningham hopes the school board re-evaluates renovations versus a new building after hearing from residents next month. Growing enrollment, she said, is an abstract notion.
"That's like this convoluted answer they give when you ask, 'Why do we need a new middle school?'" she said. "It's because they want a new middle school."