Penns Valley Area School District Superintendent Brian Griffith said the high school’s $18 million renovation project is 52 percent complete and the substantial construction is on schedule to be completed by August.
The renovations didn’t result in a tax increase because of a long-term planning process. Part of the planning included four large-group and 26 small-group community meetings to gather input before the project started.
Griffith said surveys revealed that the largest portion of the community wanted to see the building upgraded, as long as there was an affordable plan in place.
The district will be using $8 million cash and about $10 million in borrowed bonds to pay for the renovations. Griffith said the most recent borrowing reduced their interest rates and maintained the debt service payments. He said the district is scheduled to be totally debt-free in 14 1/2 years.
“We’ve been in this planning process for well over a decade. Looking at how we reduce district debt and also maintain educational programming. When you look at that, you can’t accomplish that in one or two years — you have to do that over multiple years,” Griffith said. “The idea is to work us out of debt and continue to save money and invest money in our capital and to invest in our buildings so that we don’t have to borrow money in the future.”
The school’s library, which Griffith said is a traditional library that you’d see in the 1950s, is going to be completely renovated. The shelving and book storage will be downsized by about 40 percent while four small-group instruction areas will be added.
Megan Hull, Penns Valley’s library media specialist, said there will be much more cooperative learning and small-group instruction in the renovated library.
“The new space is designed to facilitate that better and will promote collaboration between students and also encourages the use of technology,” Hull said. “We’re trying to mirror what colleges are doing and students are really looking for that.”
Like Hull, Principal Dustin Dalton said he is most excited by the collaborative areas being built.
“Right now, when our kids are doing projects and things like that, they spill out into the hallway or a vestibule area,” Dalton said. “Now we’re going to have spots for that. Our students already utilize the education, now we’re just giving them a spot to do that.”
Dalton said he has heard from several members of last year’s senior class and they’ve joked about how they don’t get to be a part of the school once the project is complete.
“From the student standpoint, I think they’re excited to see what’s going to happen. They’re excited to see when all the temporary walls come down and all the new spots are in,” Dalton said.
Throughout the entire school, air conditioning will be added, lockers and classroom doors will be replaced and corridors will be painted. The lockers have been painted before but never replaced. A new ceiling and lighting will be added from the front hallway to the gym.
The life skills classroom, which was previously the guidance office, has been completely renovated. In the hallway outside of the life skills classroom, there is purple drywall that runs the length of the hallway and, rather than leave drywall untouched, Dalton went to the art department and asked them to decorate the temporary wall with Penns Valley’s colors and logos.
A new entrance to the school, with a significantly raised ceiling, is also under construction. The new entrance will have improved security and reduces the need for visitors to walk throughout the building.
“When parents come in to pick students up for the nurse, they can come into the office area and access the students without going into the hallway. If they want to meet with the counselors to talk about career planning or college readiness, they can walk in here and don’t have to go down the hallway to the school counseling office,” Griffith said.
The 750-seat auditorium will feature a new stage, ceiling and seats. The stage will extend much farther than it currently does, which will enhance the sound quality in the auditorium.
A new gym that is under construction is rated as having a seating capacity of 1,250 people, which is more than the 660-seat gym that the Rams currently have. Penns Valley plans to keep all gym spaces and will add air conditioning to the old gym as well.
Griffith and Athletic Director Nate Althouse weren’t as forthcoming when discussing plans for the new gym.
“Just wait to see the floor,” Griffith said with a smile.