James Buchanan High School's makeover plan: 'What took so long?'

About 125 people hear details of $36.9 million project

About 125 people hear details of $36.9 million project

April 02, 2008|By CHRIS CARTER

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- About 125 people filtered into the James Buchanan High School auditorium Monday night to see and hear plans for a $36.9 million renovation project at the school.

While the design received mixed reviews from members of the community, one seemingly universal question was, "What took so long?"

If the renovation plans are approved in an expected referendum vote this fall, the deteriorating 35-year-old high school would undergo a four-year makeover to improve circulation and energy efficiency, address structural, electrical and plumbing concerns, and correct an inadequate heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

But as several people in attendance at the special school board meeting pointed out, these problems have hindered the school for decades.

"There was not any heat when I was here 25 years ago," Brian Mohn said. "This has been needed for a long time and I don't know why it's taken so long for it to come about. Get it done."


Two classrooms were without heat this winter and alternative means were needed to control the temperature, according to Bill Landis, who was skeptical of the renovation plans. Temperatures vary from room to room in the building, and business manager Rick Kerr said a renovation was needed in 1995.

Yet, it would be 17 years the age of a typical high school senior before all phases of the project would be completed in 2012.

Because of the inflation rate, each year the project is delayed would increase its cost by about 5 percent. A public vote this fall would cost the district about $25,000, leading some to question why it should not be included on the November ballot.

"That puts the architect at a disadvantage," Kerr said.

Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., presented the project Monday after discussions at five Facilities Steering Committee meetings. An outline of the project from June 2007 had slated groundbreaking for this summer, but an fall vote makes that tentative starting point unreachable.

Athletics aesthetics

An approved project would ideally address safety and security concerns, promote energy conservation and correct many of the failing utilities in the building. But also included in the design is a substantial upgrade to the deteriorating athletic complex.

Perhaps the most significant construction project both fiscally and structurally is the creation of a new swimming pool. The pool would replace the existing pool for about $3.9 million. Performing the required work to the current pool would save only $140,000, and would close it for up to one year while under construction.

A new pool would be at the north end of the high school, part of an isolated athletics wing.

"The pool is in dire need of improvement," said CRA architect Hal Hart. "As it exists, it does not meet PIAA regulations. The depth is not adequate for diving."

The existing pool would be converted into an auxiliary physical education space. Along with a renovated gymnasium, weight, wrestling and locker rooms, the athletics wing would serve as a "YMCA-type" space for the community.

James Buchanan would be the only public high school in Franklin County with a regulated indoor swimming pool for prep meets. Neighboring school districts use community facilities, like the YMCAs in Waynesboro, Pa., and Chambersburg, Pa.

"This is much more than just a high school renovation," Hart said. "It will benefit the community a great deal."

Outdoor work

Upgrades to Rocket Stadium and other outdoor athletic facilities are also designed. The renovation would create a six-lane track with an appropriate drainage system to surround the football field. That area is nothing more than a ring of cinder and dirt.

The plan also would convert cracked tennis courts with liability concerns into an increased parking area for the stadium. New tennis courts would be built at another spot on campus, and the addition of outdoor basketball courts also is designed.

There was discussion of the possible installation of sod or synthetic turf for the football field. But those talks were only preliminary and were not included in the current renovation plans.

For all of the upgrades, taxpayers would pay an average of $279 per year while the four-year project is under construction.

More detailed renovation plans are available at

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