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New School Year Brings New Buildings for State College Students

by on August 26, 2019 8:00 PM

The start of a new school year on Monday also meant brand new school facilities for many State College Area students.

State College Area School District is putting the finishing touches on years-in-the-making projects for five schools: State High, the Delta Program, Corl Street Elementary, Radio Park Elementary and the new Spring Creek Elementary (pictured).

State High students already moved in to classrooms the new south building in January 2018, but renovations and additions have continued for other areas of the building since then as part of a six-year, $139 million project. That project also included construction of the new building on the north campus for the Delta Program, which moved from its longtime home in the Fairmount Building.

Corl Street and Radio Park elementary schools underwent renovations and new construction, while Houserville and Lemont elementary schools merged in the new Spring Creek Elementary at the Houserville site.

"There are a lot of preparations that go into opening a school year and this year there were even more moving parts with everything we have going on around our district," SCASD Superintendent Bob O'Donnell said Monday afternoon at Spring Creek Elementary. "The most exciting part of today is the change process going on within our schools, and that’s when teachers are meeting new students and developing their own classroom communities with those students."

O'Donnell said different aspects of each project were prioritized, but the most important objective was achieved: having students in their new digs on the first day of school.

Classroom at Spring Creek Elementary. Photo by Geoff Rushton

At State High, the second phase of work after the completion of the main building's four three-floor classroom "pods" included construction of a black box theater, music storage and rehearsal rooms, an auxiliary gym, a fitness center, a counseling office center and a central hallway linking the two main entrances. The library, which was completed last year but used for music storage, is now fully online. The auditorium is the last big piece of the project and is expected to be finished over the next month.

"We will see a lot of scurrying around our campuses inside our facilities to finish out some of the detailed work to close out all the projects," O'Donnell said.

Another key addition at the south campus is the completed bus port behind the building, which allows for a more efficient drop-off and pick-up. O'Donnell said the design of the road system and the school building itself have "really improved the daily lives of kids to get to school on time but also where they need to go in a timely manner."

The public will be invited to a grand opening event for the high school on Oct. 12.

DELTA PROGRAM

Across Westerly Parkway from the high school is the new building for the Delta Program, which had been downtown in the Fairmount Building since 1981. Delta, according to its program description, is "a democratic school of choice" with the goal of being "a strong community that provides a safe, nurturing environment," and focuses "on a shared leadership model among parents, students, and faculty."

That mission is reflected in the new building's design, O'Donnell said, with classroom areas surrounding a large community space.

"The Delta facility it was designed with their school community in mind and their voice is all over the footprint of the facility," O'Donnell said. "The center of the classrooms is a community space where their all-school meetings happen. It really is designed around the school community to share thinking, solve problems, create new norms in which they want to work together. It really is a place for student and faculty voices to come together as a school community."

The central space in the Delta building will be completed in September.

SCASD's Helping Elementary At-Risk To Succeed (HEARTS) program and Reclaiming Individual Talent (RIT) program currently are still located in the Fairmount Building. The RIT program is expected to move to a yet-to-be-finished space in the renovated remaining portion of the old north building once completed, and the HEARTS program's location is still to be determined from among several possibilities.

O'Donnell said the district has not begun any formal planning for what it will do with the Fairmount Building once everything is finished.

"There are people in the community who have reached out to express interest and ask questions, but we’ve not engaged in any process for where Fairmount goes from here," he said. "We do not need the facility for any of our programs. It does sit next to our [Memorial Stadium], so we have a deep interest in regard to what happens on that site. We will explore all the options and look for direction from our board regarding where we go with that."

ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS

Planning for the three elementary school projects began in 2016 to address schools that had not had any major renovations since the 1950s and '60s. Construction for each began in early 2018.

The new Spring Creek Elementary brought together two longtime sister schools, the 80-year-old, K-3 Lemont Elementary and 60-year-old, 3-5 Houserville Elementary in a single K-5 school. Houserville was demolished at the end of the school year and where it stood is now the parking lot for the new school. Lemont was formally closed in June and is being sold to become a private special education school. Carrying on a bit of history, the bell from Lemont has been moved to Spring Creek.

Corl Street and Radio Park, meanwhile, both received extensive renovations and new construction, with students moving into newly built classrooms last year as the rest of the work was completed.

"With our classrooms, we have updated spaces with a lot of day lighting in all our facilities," O'Donnell said. "We integrated the technology so that it’s more supportive of student learning and flexible. The furniture is significantly more updated than what we had."

The new and renovated buildings include wide hallways, new technology, new libraries, large art rooms and, at Spring Creek and Radio Park, standalone gyms separate from the cafeteria, among other features. Like the high school, they also feature large group instruction spaces and collaborative areas.

"Those large group spaces allow a full grade level to come together," O'Donnell said. "They get to come together as a team and work through and share their thinking."

Large group instruction space at Spring Creek Elementary. Photo by Geoff Rushton

O'Donnell added that security experts worked on the designs with the architect and school district.

"The design team had security professionals. We also had local police and first responders involved," he said. "We were not interested in designing a space that looked like a bunker. Though the security features are definitely built into our facilities as well as procedures in how we manage our facilities, our goal all along is to develop spaces where our students want to learn everyday. We’ve been very diligent about how we design the facilities as well as who we were taking input from because there are many varied perspectives on this."

Combined the three elementary projects totaled about $60 million. Radio Park is about 80,000 square feet, Spring Creek 71,000 square feet, and Corl Street, a neighborhood school with a smaller area to work with, is 65,000 square feet.

Classrooms at Spring Creek Elementary, as well as Corl Street and Radio Park, allow for plenty of natural light. Photo by Geoff Rushton.

O'Donnell said he is happy and relieved to see the high school, Delta and elementary projects coming to a finish. When he arrived as SCASD superintendent in 2011, the future of the State High project alone was still unclear.

"There was a lot of community involvement and we’ve been very fortunate for our community’s involvement, for our board’s support and the tough decisions they had to make," he said. "Hopefully the community looks at how we’ve gone about this and the spaces that we’ve created for the kids with a sense of pride. We will take care of these facilities on behalf of the community."

He added however, that the most important new part of the school year is one that happens every year.

"The most exciting part of today is the change process going on within our schools and that’s when teachers are meeting new students and developing their own classroom communities with those students.

"The students walk into the facilities and see them for the first time and this is their new school, their home away from home for this year. Though I’m excited about the facilities, I’m most excited about what our faculty’s done with their own development and to utilize these quality environments to make what’s most important happen every day."

The library at Spring Creek Elementary. Photo by Geoff Rushton


The gymnasium at Spring Creek Elementary, as well as at Radio Park Elementary, is standalone and separate from the cafeteria. Photo by Geoff Rushton.

 

Video by Nabil Mark/State College Area School District



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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