Three elementary schools inch toward repair or replacement
Chief Facilities Officer Mark Stein introduced the district’s capital improvement plan at the Nov. 11 BASD curriculum committee meeting. He cited guidance from the Association of Physical Plant Administrators (APPA) to budget 1.5 percent of the replacement cost of the district’s total square footage annually for capital projects, while acknowledging that this is not financially possible for public school districts. Projects slated to begin in 2020 are HVAC replacements at Asa Packer and Spring Garden elementary schools and the repair or replacement of the recently wind-damaged science wing roof at Freedom HS.
In 2021, BASD is likely to replace the HVAC systems at Farmersville and Freemansburg ES, for a cost of $9 million between the two sites.
D’Huy Engineering principal M. Arif Fazil discussed the outdated and deteriorating facilities at Fountain Hill ES, which was built in 1937 (with an addition in 1994), and still uses the open floor plan that has been phased out of most other district elementary schools. Although the building has “minimal” asbestos issues, its “open-concept” design means that no walls separate classroom areas, and the layout is inefficient. BASD estimates that repairs to the physical plant would cost $18.5 million, a renovation and addition project would cost $28.5 million, and building an entirely new facility would cost $34.5 million.
Thomas Jefferson ES and William Penn ES, which were built in 1972, have similar issues. BASD estimates that repairing the buildings would cost $9–10 million, renovating the schools and adding 8,000 square-feet would cost $15.5 million, and replacing the structures entirely would cost $21 million. (Cost figures are for each school, not both.) Stein noted that the multi-level design of Thomas Jefferson and William Penn, which are physically quite similar, pose ADA compliance issues.
Board member Shannon Patrick asked about the relocation of students during a repair, renovation, or replacement project, and although Fazil said that phasing construction so as to avoid relocation may be possible, he emphasized that the district is very early in the process. “Start early on with a task force,” he advised, “asking the important questions.”
Board member Tom Thomasik suggested that despite the challenges of repairing or replacing schools on small, location-challenged lots, keeping the same site is preferable to taking the school out of the neighborhood. “Putting a refurbished neighborhood school in a community encourages local families to feel pride in their neighborhood and maintain their own properties. It’s good for everyone’s property values,” he asserted.
District officers also reported on the expanded Empower initiative; BASD issued Chromebooks to students in grades 11 and 12 and Freedom and Liberty high schools in mid-November, nearly a full academic year ahead of schedule. Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jack Silva explained that the district was able to economize on other areas of the budget in order to roll out Empower to all middle and high school students. Liberty science department chairwoman Tara Richards presented information to the board on how the science students in particular will use the laptops to accomplish the “five C’s”: collaboration, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and citizenship. Some Chromebook-enabled work includes performing physics experiments in the hallways, using a database from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to sequence the genome of a virus, and participating in distance learning with medical students in another state.
Silva also presented changes to the academic program at both high schools for the 2020-21 school year, as well as new requirements for the Keystone Exam, required in Pa. for high school graduation. Beginning with the high school class of 2022, students will not receive a high school diploma unless they have demonstrated proficiency on the algebra 1, literature, and biology Keystone Exams, or meet alternative criteria set forth in SB 1095, which became law in October 2018.
One example of an alternative path to a diploma is passing high school classes in algebra 1, literature, and biology, combined with passing the National Institute of Metalworking Skills assessment. More details on graduation requirements are available from BASD (https://go.boarddocs.com/pa/beth/Board.nsf/Public) and from the Pa. Dept. of Ed. (“Graduation Requirements,” reachable from the “Assessment and Accountability” tab at https://www.education.pa.gov/K-12).