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James Buchanan High School in the midst of major overhaul

July 29, 2010|By DANA BROWN
  • James Buchanan High School Principal Rodney Benedick predicts "the biggest wow-factor will be the library entrance" and the reconfigured library at the school in Mercersburg, Pa.
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- During the school year, James Buchanan High School Principal Rodney Benedick regularly canvassed the building before the start of each school day checking for what might not be working on that particular day.

It could have been any number of things, he said.

But on Wednesday, Benedick toured the school building to survey all that is being fixed.

The nearly 40-year-old facility is undergoing a major renovation, much of which has taken place over the summer break. Nearly every inch of the 175,000-square-foot building is being renovated, updated or getting a facelift.

"For years, the building got in the way of our mission," Benedick said. "Now the building will enhance providing the best education."

With less than five weeks before school starts, there is still a lot of work to be completed.

Stanley Morgan, facilities director for the Tuscarora School District, who oversees the renovation project, said work is progressing on schedule.

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"We have made a lot of progress in the last week and a half," Morgan said. "There will still be work to be done but it won't interfere with school starting on time."

"It will be a full-court press for the next several weeks," Benedick said.

The $17 million renovation project is the first major renovation of the high school building which was built in the early 1970s, Benedick said.

"The building has had an almost 40-year run," he said. But time, he added, has taken its toll on the facility. Most major systems were failing badly, he said.

Renovations to the district's middle school and two elementary schools pushed the high school's need down on the list. And the failure of a proposed $35 million referendum in 2008 forced the district to take more time to explore an alternative proposal. The current project met approval with a $17 million cap.

But what was a long time coming, was definitely worth the wait financially, according to Eric Holtzman, the district's business administrator.

"For $17 million, we are getting what we truly need in this building," Holtzman said. What is needed and some items they could not have included in the project otherwise, he said.

Holtzman pointed to current market conditions as reasons the district is getting more bang for its buck.

"It's hard to quantify the savings," Holtzman said, but he estimated the cost of the project would have come in $2.5 million to $2.6 million higher before the economy turned south.

"We were able to capitalize on the economy right now," Morgan said. "Our product is going to be a very good one."

Lower than expected bids also affected the renovation costs, providing an estimated 15 percent to 20 percent savings on the entire project, Holtzman said.

The entire renovation, Morgan said, will prepare the building for the next 20 to 30 years.

Part of the project also includes implementing a preventative maintenance program, he said, "to take care of what taxpayers have put into the school."

The nearly 800 students returning for the start of the 2010-11 school year will see some significant changes to their school, Benedick said.

"It will be back in shape, much better than when we left it in June," Benedick said.

The first stage of the renovation, which began in January, involved putting in all new water and electrical systems throughout the building,

Much of that progress was unseen, he said.

"They will be surprised," he said of students. "They will finally believe what we have been saying."

Along with freshly painted walls, renovated restrooms, new flooring, and new furniture, students will also see a whole lot more natural light.

Skylights, larger windows and solar tubes have been installed to allow more daylight to be harvested, Morgan said. The idea is to save on utility expenses and to make the interior more conducive to learning, he said.

Benedick predicts "the biggest wow-factor will be the library entrance" and the reconfigured library.

Benedick said the renovations are "exciting for a lot of reasons." He pointed to not only the tangible improvements, but to the improvement he anticipates in student morale as well.

"Students should have a larger sense of pride," Benedick said.

The teachers have expressed their excitement, Morgan added.

"This will show forth in their attitude," Morgan said. "If you can get the teachers excited, it will affect the students. I believe it all ties together."

Other improvements include wireless infrastructure support for up to 900 users, an upgraded security system, installation of all new heating and air conditioning systems and occupancy sensors, new roofing and insulation.

The renovation of classrooms will be ongoing throughout the school year, Morgan said. The final stage of the project will take place next summer and will include renovation of the cafeteria, auditorium and main offices.

"It's the rebirth of a school," Benedick said.

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