Delta to say goodbye to Fairmount Building
In a few short weeks, students of the State College Area School District’s Delta Program will say goodbye to a building many of them feel defines their educational experience.
The Delta Program, now housed in the Fairmount Building in downtown State College, is moving to an entirely new space on the North Campus of State College Area High School at the start of the next school year.
Delta, an alternative learning program run democratically by students, teachers and parents, has about 240 students in grades 5-12, offering both a middle school and high school curriculum. Started in 1974 as the Alternative Program, schedules and learning goals are flexible, and students are encouraged to set their own learning trajectory.
Colorful murals and bright-colored alcoves dot the hallways in the Fairmount Building, but the challenges are obvious — fans struggle to churn the hot air through windowless hallways that sometimes feel like a maze.
While some students are sad to be leaving their space, others, including many teachers and administrators at the school, are excited for the luxuries the new building will bring — namely, climate control.
“This place has a lot of history but it kind of came with a lot of history, so I think it’ll be exciting for the students to create a new home for themselves, even though they’re sad about leaving this,” said special education teacher Deborah Steinberg. She also said she’s looking forward to the accessibility of the new building — the current Delta building is not ADA-compliant and has no elevators to accommodate a student in a wheelchair.
Among the positive changes, both the middle and high school wings will be more integrated in the new building and administrators will be located in a central office instead of in different parts of the building, said SCASD Director of Alternatives Jon Downs, who is the Delta Program director.
Though “change is difficult for everyone,” he said, “we’re excited for a lot of reasons.”
He said he looks forward to the ADA-compliance, a more central administrative office and combined front entrance, and developing a more cohesive relationship between the middle and high school programs. Right now, the high school is located on the Nittany Avenue side of the building and the middle school resides on the West Fairmount Avenue side. The division “hurts collaboration,” said Downs.
With the move, Downs also sees an opportunity to foster a new relationship with State High. Seventy percent of Delta students take classes at State High, and with the advent of the new building, State High students will also get to take classes at Delta, he said. “That kind of relationship I hope will grow,” he said.
Climate control has been an issue in the Fairmount Building, with some rooms getting up to 95 degrees in the summertime, he said. The building was first built in 1914 and has had two subsequent additions. The SCASD Board of Directors has not yet decided what will happen to the building.
Lucy Witzke, an 8th grader in the middle school program, said though she’s only been in the Fairmount Building for a year, she’ll miss its singularity.
“It’s colorful, it’s unique. There’s a lot of things that this building has that other schools don’t really have,” she said.
Nick Berrena, a 6th grade student, said he feels like it’s “unique how you can be in this building and also be able to have a different experience while learning.”
But Downs said the students truly make the Delta experience different from other schools.
“The culture is from the people, the system, not the building,” he said.
Several students and Downs formed a transition committee and met most of the 2018-2019 school year about how to facilitate the move to best fit Delta, said Downs.
Henry Adams, a 7th grade student at Delta, said he wants to make his mark on the new building through student artwork and murals on the walls.
Many students are excited about being in closer to proximity to their classes at State High, but Downs said he is also tasked with “making sure we don’t get swallowed up by the (State) high school.”
That means being “protective of ... our identity” as the Delta Program, he said.
“The school community is free and open,” said Berrena. “(I love) to be able to get that freedom to learn.”