An old farm is creating a current controversy in the Cumberland Valley School District.
The board wants to use eminent domain to take the property. Preservation groups are fighting this decision by taking the battle to school board meetings.
Christine Musser received more than 500 signatures in a few weeks on her petition to save the McCormick Farmland.
In March, Cumberland Valley filed a declaration to take the land as a possible location for a new middle school. In response, community members brought the petition and filled the seats at the latest school board meeting.
“It sets a precedent for other organizations or even other school districts that if they have the money or the power to take something that they can do it, and I think that’s not really what we want to be teaching our students,” said Madison Whitcomb, a Cumberland Valley senior.
The land was protected under a conservation easement from the Natural Lands Trust, but an exception in that agreement states that if a public entity has a justifiable need for the land, it can be taken by eminent domain.
“The decision they make is the reputation that they build for themselves, and if Cumberland Valley truly believes in soaring to greatness, I really don’t believe that taking the McCormick Farmland is the way to do it,” Whitcomb said.
Rumors circulated that next school year’s tentative 2.4 percent tax increase would be used to buy the McCormick property, but board officials said it will be used to staff 36 additional people for two new schools.
“We always said we could build the buildings without a tax increase. We said we need the tax increase to fill the buildings,” board president Mike Gossert said.
Board members said they wouldn’t try to take the land if it wasn’t needed to accommodate their massive growth. According to school officials, the three-year average growth rate for the district is 2.22 percent, or 200 students per year. They expect this to continue for another three to five years.
“It’s been tough. It’s been tough for all of us. You know, we go home — we take this stuff home. Some of the emails I received, they’re not pleasant emails,” Gossert said.
The board announced that they will hold a town hall meeting to further discuss the McCormick property in the next coming weeks.