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United Way of Lancaster County


Catherine Hershey Schools acquire former Rheems Elementary School for early learning center

The Rheems Elementary School building. (Source: CHS | OUL)

Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning announced Thursday that the organization is buying the former Rheems Elementary School at 130 Alida St. in West Donegal Township and will renovate it to serve as one of its three planned Lancaster County campuses.

When completed, the site will provide free early childhood education for up to 150 children aged 6 weeks to 5 years old who come from underserved backgrounds. The school will be headed by Luanne Gould, who has nearly 20 years of experience in the field, the nonprofit said.

“We are honored to join the Elizabethtown community and look forward to reviving a space where local educators and staff once served area children,” Catherine Hershey Schools Executive Director Senate Alexander said in a statement.

Catherine Hershey Schools did not specify a target opening date for the Elizabethtown project; it has previously said its Lancaster County campuses will begin opening in 2026.

The Rheems Elementary School building dates to 1955. In February 2022 the Elizabethtown Area School Board voted to close it and Mill Road Elementary School and consolidate programs at its two other elementary schools.

The two buildings were sold at auction at the end of last year, with Rheems Elementary going for $1 million to Hunter Creek Partners, a Lititz-based real estate investment firm.

Catherine Hershey Schools’ purchase has not yet closed. Spokeswoman Toshiko Nelson declined to provide a purchase price or projected renovation cost. (Update: A deed filed Thursday afternoon lists the purchase price as $2.995 million.)

The Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning are a spinoff subsidiary of Milton Hershey School. Six schools are being rolled out in central Pennsylvania, three each in Lancaster and Dauphin counties. The total budget across all six is $350 million.

They will offer state-of-the-art facilities and programming, fostering children’s social, emotional and cognitive development and assisting their families with resource access and other services.

Rheems Elementary School is about 2 miles from Elizabethtown College. Earlier this month, Catherine Hershey Schools and the college’s School of Graduate & Professional Studies announced a partnership through which Catherine Hershey Schools staff and students’ families will receive a 15% discount on tuition at the college for courses related to professional development.

The first Catherine Hershey School opened this fall in Hershey. Schools in Harrisburg and Middletown are to open in 2024 and 2025, respectively, followed by their Lancaster County counterparts: Elizabethtown, Lancaster city and New Danville.

The Catherine Hershey School in Hershey. (Source: CHS)