Penns Valley

Penns Valley high school master plan moves forward

Penns Valley Area School District is another step closer to making its high school master plan a reality after more than a year in the works.

$17.6 million master plan

On March 31, district administrators addressed the public regarding potential future plans, and unveiled spending behind the proposal that could cost the district about $17.6 million.

The mission behind the project is to make renovations to identified areas of concern in a way that puts staff and students’ safety and academic needs first, Superintendent Brian Griffith said.

“Our challenge is to meet the needs of every child,” Griffith said. “Our facility functions finely in some areas, but there are other areas that don’t. We’ve looked at areas of strength and concern.”

District business manager Jef Wall said money to complete the project would come from the district’s fund balance, also known as a “savings account.”

“During the past 10-12 years, we’ve been frugal in the management of our budget,” he said. “We have been able to save for projects like this or other needs the district may have.”

Savings, Wall said, came by way of salaries; benefits; restructuring health insurance; hiring someone to replace a vacant position at a lower cost than when the person left; and changing the heating system at the school, which saves the district $150,000 to $250,000 a year.

Construction plans

Griffith said the first class at the Penns Valley Road building was in 1957.

Renovations were made 10 years later, and then again in 1995 that mainly took care of infrastructure-type needs like water and sewer lines, Griffith said.

Since then, other maintenance was done that included new tile, windows, a heating system, upgraded locker rooms and restrooms, and a multipurpose room, used with cash from the district’s budget, Griffith said.

Areas of improvement, he said, are the auditorium, classroom space, gymnasium, library and other miscellaneous areas.

Why do this? Some areas are failing, and we looked at those areas. Does it make sense to fix them, or make larger space?

Brian Griffith, superintendent

“Why do this?” Griffith asked. “Some areas are failing, and we looked at those areas. Does it make sense to fix them, or make larger space?”

Mike Kelly, an architect hired to help with the master plan, said he did a feasibility study with a group of others that helped create space that would meet operational and educational needs.

An architectural rendering was completed by a team from KCBA, of Hatfield, who drafted a renovated auditorium; office and learning centers; a renovated cafeteria that would turn it from a line system to a food court area; a STEM area, which would be located in the current area of the small gymnasium and would enhance science education; a renovated library space; courtyard; and academic spaces.

School benefits

Educators at the school said the mission is to create space that benefits the classroom and community.

We want our students to be college and career ready

Assistant Principal Laura Tobias

“We want our students to be college and career ready,” Assistant Principal Laura Tobias said. “If you ask the business community what they expect from students, they must be able to collaborate, have conversations and work as a team. The environment in the building must support that.”

By doing that, administrators think there needs to be space that promotes collaboration among students and teachers in active learning classrooms.

“The world is changing,” Tobias said. “We want to enhance the student learning experience, we want to improve student engagement, we want them talking, busy and engaged in the process, and we want students to out-perform their grade expectations. ... So we need to look at our facility, and maybe make some tweaks, some changes to support that learning process particularly in our classrooms. We’re no longer in the day when you come into the classroom and there are rows of desks and you sit down and the teacher gives you information. ... We want kids engaged. That teacher should be a facilitator for all those things the kids can use in the real world.”

She and other members of the school district visited schools in the commonwealth to get ideas of what needs to be done at Penns Valley.

Tobias said they gained inspiration by looking at buildings with new construction, and older buildings that were renovated.

“The goal was to see how facilities change to better student achievement,” she said.

What Tobias said she saw was classroom space that supported instruction that would benefit students’ futures.

“We looked at libraries,” Tobias said. “We’re away from the days where it’s, ‘Shh! Please be quiet, you’re in the library.’ We don’t want that anymore. We want kids engaged, we want them talking to each other, we want them to have space to go and work and do research, and they be allowed to use their media (and) their technology, (and) to be engaged in the educational process.”

But there are also safety measures that come with the final product.

Tobias said a new lobby would create a clearer line of vision to who is entering and exiting the building.

“It’s important,” she said. “The flow of that office should be a welcoming point, people should be comfortable coming here, but it should be secure and there should be some confidentiality to that main office.”

Future

In February, the nine-member school board unanimously voted to approve two items that put the Penns Valley Area High School master plan in the next phase.

The votes were to approve the high school master planning purpose statement and priority goals, and to approve the meeting schedule to seek input on the master plan and authorize the administration to use appropriate means to advertise the events.

Griffith said the school board will solicit feedback from residents and community groups regarding the master plan. They will hold tours of the high school for community groups that will last until May.

The next public input session is April 14 at the high school auditorium.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

Areas for improvement, and project cost estimates

Auditorium: $1.4 million

Cafeteria: $750,000

Classroom and learning spaces: $3.6 million

Renovated gymnasium: $800,000

New gymnasium: $5.3 million

Library: $920,000

Offices: $1.6 million

Optional areas: $3.2 million

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