When State College Area students went back to school on Monday, many were greeted by the sounds of heavy equipment moving materials and the pounding of nails.
Three schools — State College Area High School, Radio Park and Corl Street elementary — are in the midst of ongoing construction and renovations. A fourth school, Spring Creek Elementary — is being built on the site of the existing Houserville Elementary School.
All four major projects are expected to be complete in about a year from now — just in time for the start of the 2019-20 school year.
In order to stay on schedule, Director of Physical Plant Ed Poprik said construction on all four projects will be ongoing while school is in session, with the major work set for winter break.
But going to school in a construction site is nothing new for State College students, Poprik said. Many of them dealt with it last year, as did students in Easterly Parkway, Park Forest, Gray’s Woods and Ferguson Township elementary schools, when those schools underwent renovations and new construction.
“It’s all sectioned off to try to limit the amount of distraction,” Poprik said about Radio Park, specifically. “It was the same last year, they were working on some demolition and new construction while people were occupying the new section.”
Record rainfall this summer presented some challenges for construction and keeping the projects on schedule. Poprik said it wasn’t easy, but thanks to his staff, the contractors and “a lot of hard work,” they were able to get done what they needed to get done.
“We were at Radio Park still at 5:30 Friday night wrapping things up. That was a little too close for comfort,” Poprik said. “It was by the skin of our teeth, but we got it done.”
Here’s an update on what got done over the summer, and what to expect next:
State High Project
For the first time, State High students started the school year in the new building on the south side of Westerly Parkway. Students and staff officially moved into the new building in January after the completion of Phase 1 of the $137 million project.
Students will have a full year to enjoy the amenities they were introduced to last year, such as the revamped food court with made-to-order menus, the improved career and technical education classrooms and increased number of bathrooms and water fountains with bottle fillers that they were excited about last year, while work is continuing on Phases 2 and 3 of the project.
Poprik said the biggest change, from last school year to this year, is the newly opened parking lot on the north side of the street and the four-way intersection created between the two lots on both sides of Westerly Parkway by Welch Pool.
“That changed from what used to be an entry and exit system to a single four-way intersection,” Poprik said. “So the traffic pattern is much different this year than it was last year.”
Right now, there is no traffic light at the intersection, making it pretty busy around arrival and dismissal time, Poprik said. He said the school district is working with the State College borough to get traffic light installed, hopefully by October. Until then, the district has traffic guards working the intersection, and will have buses pick up and drop off on both sides of Westerly.
“We’ll have buses coming off of Westerly Parkway as well as O’Brien Lane over by Weis,” Poprik said. “Those two eventually will connect behind the building, but right now they don’t. So if you’re not sure which entry you’re going into or which side you’re looking for a bus on, it could be a little confusing at first.”
For students or parents with questions about the new traffic pattern, the district has a map on its website detailing all the changes, including new parking lots and student drop-off/pickup locations.
The next big change for State High is set for winter break, when Poprik said they’ll be moving into the new library and guidance counseling office.
They also hope to install artificial turf and lights at the North Athletic Field — located where the old driver’s ed tower used to be —sometime this fall.
At 5:30 p.m. Friday, Poprik said teachers were still at Radio Park Elementary, trying to set up their classrooms in the newly opened section of the building.
Poprik said it went “right down to the wire” in terms of getting all their code approvals and occupancy permits to get everyone moved in on time, so teachers were in the building all weekend long getting their classrooms set up.
“It’s a temporary front entry, but the rooms are brand-new, looking good and air-conditioned,” Poprik said. “So we’re really excited to be in the first new section of that building.”
The Radio Park construction and renovations are also being done in three phases. Last year, teachers and students occupied the old section of the school while work was being done on the first of the three new sections. Now, everyone has moved into the new section while the second new section is begin completed. Poprik said they should be able to move into that section after winter break, and the entire new building by the start of next year.
The final project, which is expected to cost $23.6 million, will be a mix of new construction and renovations and feature four classrooms per grade.
At Corl Street, Poprik said, not much has changed for the students since they left school in June.
Students and staff are all still occupying the old section in the front while the new section is being constructed in the back. Come winter break, they will “flip-flop” and move into the new section while the old section is renovated.
The $18.8 million project will add a second floor, increase classroom space and enhance parking.
The project at Houserville is a bit different than the other two, Poprik said, as it’s all new construction. The new $18.8 million Spring Creek Elementary is being constructed on the Fogleman soccer fields, to the left of the existing building.
The students in both Houserville and Lemont will finish out the school year in their current buildings, then combine and move into the new building together at the start of the 2019-20 school year.
With all of the progress being done at the high school and elementary schools, one major project got moved to the back burner.
The estimated $10 million Phase 2 project that will see the Nittany Avenue office building demolished and replaced with a new locker room facility, and new east-side bleachers and link the west bleachers to a new concourse, was supposed to start in May and wrap up in December 2019.
Poprik says he plans to speak to the school board this fall about when they’d like to get started on the project. It could be as early as springtime, he said.
“That could be a $10 million project, so it’s pretty extensive,” he said. “It’ll be a great project once it’s done.”