Editor's note: This is the first in a five-part series on the space crunch within the Salem School District. Each story will focus on a different school.
SALEM — At Lancaster Elementary school, school psychologist Meg Bentley works with students in a walk-in closet. The walls are lined with shelves stacked to the ceiling with supplies. There's barely enough space for a small table and three kid-size chairs.
Nearly all of the school's storage closets and hallways take on other functions these days, and the school isn't the only one in the district facing space problems.
As specialized reading programs, speech and language therapists, and school physiologists have become recognized as necessities in public schools, Salem school buildings haven't grown with the expanding programs.
The district is attempting to take the first step to address the space issues at all eight of its schools by creating a facilities master plan, which would serve as a districtwide blueprint, outlining needed facility improvements for the next 30 years.
District officials will hold two public forums on the current version of the master plan on Tuesday and Thursday this week. The plan calls for renovations to each of the district's six elementary schools and middle school.
Most schools in the district haven't seen any major improvements since they were built in the 1950s and 1960s.
The expectation of education from public schools changed in 1975, when the federal government passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it requires public schools to provide education to students with disabilities.
In recent years, the district has seen an increase in students who need these special programs, and it has caused a space crunch at schools, according to Superintendent Michael Delahanty.