Alex Small had already been exploring a foreign land for a day before he took another trip.
The day after starting at State College Area High School last week, Small sat in his freshman advanced world history class as his teacher, Arthur Entz, ran a slide show of living conditions for children around the world.
The class saw a full range, from a girl’s decked-out bedroom in Tokyo to a boy’s tattered couch in a Rio de Janeiro slum.
Small and his classmates are going to experience some memorable conditions of their own in the next four years.
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They belong to a historic class: the first to spend much, if not all, of their high school years dealing with the disruption from a new State High being built.
For the next four years, at least, the construction will involve demolishing the South Building and replacing it with a single, multistory building that would eliminate the need for students to cross Westerly Parkway when changing classes.
Some of the existing North Building will be kept for housing the Delta Program, the district’s alternative high school and middle school.
“I don’t think anyone will mind it, because we know we need this even if we might not get to be in the new building,” freshman Grace McDonough said. “I’m sure we’ll all feel a little claustrophobic and confused at times, but we know it’s what’s best for the school.”
The project, budgeted at $115 million, received the green light in May when the public voted in favor of a referendum authorizing the district to borrow $85 million and raise taxes for funding. The district estimates the total cost will be about $221 million with interest.
Ed Poprik, the school district’s director of physical plant, said that construction will begin next summer for the new State High building, and conditions will change for the class of 2018 each year. Construction could finish before current freshmen graduate, he said.
“The first part of the project’s construction phase will probably last for about 15 months, to construct the new section of the South Building while students attend the existing buildings as (the buildings) sit,” Poprik said. “All of the education will be going as it is today.”
In the second phase, teachers and students in the existing South Building will move to the new South Building section after its completion, so that the existing facility can be demolished and rebuilt.
The last phase will focus on renovating the existing North Building for the Delta Protram.
Poprik said he could not give a timeline for the existing South Building’s demolition and reconstruction, but he said that as it becomes complete, teachers and students from the North Building will move into the South Building.
“I won’t try to speculate at this stage of the development,” Poprik said. “At some point in the coming several months, we’ll be able to get more definitive with phasing.”
Some State High freshmen said they approve the reconstruction of their high school as long as they have good relationships with their teachers and the rebuilding doesn’t get too loud and confusing.
Some freshmen identified what differences they would like to see in the new school.
“They have no air conditioning, and it gets so hot in here in a lot of classes,” McDonough said.
State High’s air conditioning deficiencies were routinely brought up by freshmen as temperatures ranged from the mid-70s to the mid-80s during their first week of high school.
Not every room has windows that can be opened, and fans in classrooms have provided some relief from the heat, though freshman Daniel Adams said some of them cause a noise distraction, like the one in his advanced earth systems science class.
About 10 minutes into the class, the fan starting making a distinct rattling that continued for the rest of the period.
“It’s not too bad, but then sometimes, like you heard that fan, it gets a little loud,” Adams said. “I don’t think it’s something that is too distracting.”
Construction noise was also a concern for some students, but they said it’s a minor worry.
“It might get loud, sure, but I’m comfortable with them making accommodations for school to be as normal as it can be,” Adams said.
Some said they’d also like to see improved logistics, namely an easier commute from class to class in the new school.
“I think it could have more compact classes, especially for the core classes,” Small said.
Poprik said in an email that there will be detailed discussions about this topic, beginning with the student government meeting Oct. 29.
“Our current educational model, which drives the design of the building and the proposed floor plan, locates classes in a clustered learning community structure,” Poprik said. “This is in contrast to the current buildings, which were designed with classrooms lined up along the main corridors.”
As freshman Cassidy Zeiler looked for her first-period world history class, she said that some classes can be hard to find because not all room numbers are immediately visible.
Room numbers vary throughout the South Building, from being spray painted on the walls to being more noticeable on the classroom doors.
“I think having room numbers labeled better would make it easier for students to find classrooms,” Zeiler said.
Crossing Westerly Parkway to get to the North Building, McDonough said it isn’t that far of a walk, but that it will be nice for future students to not have to cross the street for some elective classes. Student drivers will still cross at the beginning and end of the day.
McDonough said she hopes the parking lots are redone to create more spaces and to make spaces more legible.
“A new bus system for less traffic, more parking spaces and a better parking lot would be nice if they could do it, because it is a little confusing,” she said. “It was hard for my sister, who’s an upperclassman, to get a parking pass, and if you park without a parking pass, they fine you. A lot of us will be driving when we’re juniors.”
Poprik said the core project team will attempt to keep the existing number of parking spaces throughout the construction phase, with about a 10 percent increase by the end of the project.
Though students did not bring up security concerns, Poprik said measures are still being developed for the construction phase of the project and that security is one of his top priorities.
Although State High’s current crop of freshmen might not get to experience the new high school, many said they look forward to watching it develop.
“It will be really cool to see it develop and see the construction from beginning to end,” Small said.