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Merger study examines whether high school should be in Canton or Potsdam

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CANTON — The turf athletic stadium is at Potsdam Central, but the indoor swimming pool is at Canton.

Potsdam High School has 12 more classrooms and a larger gymnasium, but Canton has a bigger cafeteria and more lockers.

Factors like these and many others are being considered by consultants from Western New York Educational Council, the Buffalo firm hired to study the idea of merging the two neighboring districts into one brand-new school district.

Their recommendation will include which community should house the high school and which should have the middle school. The decision may create controversy on the 28-member Joint Advisory Committee, which is made up of 14 residents from Canton and 14 from Potsdam.

Committee members were polled anonymously last week by consultants about which community had the better high school facility to house a merged student body. The results weren’t released at the meeting, but the input is expected to be taken into consideration as the consultants continue their work.

Committee members were asked to share what type of feedback they’re getting from the public about the merger idea.

John Taillon, of Canton, said people are concerned that families will want to reside in the community that houses the high school because that’s where sports games and other extracurricular events will take place.

As a result, the worry is that property values might decline and few families might move into the community without a high school, he said.

“If there is no high school in the community, people are worried about the tax base,” Mr. Taillon said.

Building a new high school somewhere in the middle wouldn’t make sense because the two districts have enough existing space to house a merged student enrollment, according to the consultants. Given that situation, it’s also unlikely state officials would approve construction of a new building.

At earlier meetings, the advisory committee came to the consensus that in a merged district, each community would operate its own elementary schools for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. One middle school would exist for grades six to eight and one high school for grades nine to 12. The idea is that one community would house the middle school and the other would house the high school.

Data collected by the consultants focused on highlighting the strengths of the existing high school buildings.

Although the two sites were considered equal in 20 different categories, the Potsdam High School building complex has several advantages compared with Canton High’s facilities, according to the analysis.

Those include 50 percent more square feet and 12 more regular classrooms than Canton. Also, Potsdam High features more options for special education programs such as its greenhouse, sugar shack and woodshop. The high school is a separate, distinct building that provides physical separation between elementary and high school students.

Other Potsdam benefits include a main gymnasium that’s 40 percent larger than Canton, with bleacher seating for 1,200, compared with Canton’s 760. Potsdam also has a larger fitness center. The outdoor stadium features lighting, a press box, more seating and parking, outdoor bathrooms and a concession stand, a Varsity baseball field with dugouts and an eight-lane track with jumping pits and a press box. Potsdam is 8.1 miles from the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Seaway Tech Center, Norwood, while Canton is 19.6 miles away. Students in physical education classes also have access to the Potsdam bowling alley. Potsdam offers a centralized main office with guidance rooms, more outdoor parking and better security access for entry.

The consultants noted some advantages of the Canton building, including a larger cafeteria with available space, although they noted that Potsdam has plans to expand into an adjacent technology classroom. Canton has sufficient lockers for a merged high school, while Potsdam would need to add roughly 100 lockers. Although Canton has a swimming pool and Potsdam does not, the pool is more conducive to elementary and middle school physical education classes, according to the consultants.

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