Despite a hard-fought effort from parents, students and community members, Oliver Heckman Elementary will close following this school year.
In a special session held on April 12, the Neshaminy School Board voted unanimously to close Lower Southampton Elementary. The Heckman closure went through in a 5-4 vote, sealed on a last-minute decision by board member Marty Sullivan, who originally ran for school board as a Heckman supporter.
“I know what my campaign promises were,” Sullivan said before voting. “I did my due diligence and I looked at all the numbers and I talked to all the people … My decision tonight is one that was well thought out and I’ll just leave it at that right now.”
Moments later, he voted for the closure along with board members Scott Congdon, Irene Boyle, Tina Hollenbach and Stephen Pirritano. The dissenting votes were cast by Bob Feather, Mike Morris, Ron Rudy and Robert Sanna.
Dozens of Heckman supporters, some holding “Keep Heckman Open” signs, immediately filed out of the auditorium at Maple Point Middle School after Sullivan’s vote.
“Many Heckman parents trusted him and he backed away,” Staci O’Brien, an organizer for Save Our Neshaminy Schools, said afterward.
The decision brings an end to the months-long battle by the community group that opposed the district’s large-scale consolidation plan. The “roadmap,” as the plan is called by Neshaminy officials, set out close three of the district’s eight aging elementary schools, while renovating the remaining five.
Fifth-graders were also moved to middle schools at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year and construction on an 800-student elementary school in Lower Southampton is underway and expected to be completed by the start of next school year. The plan aims to take advantage of low-interest bond rates that might not available in the future, save on facility costs and improve district infrastructure.
With the closure of Heckman made official, it doesn’t appear the roadmap will be re-routed.
Many Heckman supporters, in a last-ditch effort to sway the board members, spoke about the school and its importance to the Langhorne and Middletown communities.
“I love Langhorne Borough. I love the community. I loved knowing when I had my daughter in 2013 that she would go to school right down the street, that I could walk her there,” Marianne Stahl said. “Before I left tonight, I told my daughter that I was going to help save her future school. Please help me tell her that we did.”
Neshaminy substitute teacher Joshua Winthrop spoke about the differences between teaching at Heckman and some of the other schools in the district.
“Heckman stands apart from any other school I’ve seen in the district due to one simple thing and that is a sense of community,” he said. “A community like that can take years to cultivate … It’s what every school in Neshaminy School District should aspire to be.”
Still, the vote finalized the fate of Heckman, which has served the community for about 50 years. Weighing the need for building upgrades at the school and the elements of the roadmap that are already in motion, board members ultimately decided to stay the course of consolidation.