Northeastern board hears $80M-plus options for high school project
Amid concerns of aging facilities, the Northeastern school board is considering a high school building project that could cost district taxpayers more than $100 million.
At the school board's buildings and grounds meeting Jan. 29, architects from the Wyomissing, Berks County, firm Kautter & Kelly Architects presented the results of a master plan study conducted earlier in the year.
In the nearly three-hour meeting, Mike Kautter, president of the firm, reviewed the study's scope, which included assessments on the building's security, efficiency, accessibility and effectiveness.
While buildings have been well maintained for their ages, Kautter found security at the high school was compromised by the campus' sprawling layout.
"It's kind of like a labyrinth," he said.
According to the study, some of the school's shortcomings include:
- Peeling paint in classrooms and chemical damage to flooring in science labs.
- Dark corridors in need of lighting, as well as antiquated fluorescent lighting across the school.
- Limited Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) code compliance.
- No automated fire-suppression system.
- Excess of external doors, posing a security risk.
The high school's courtyards, which are out of compliance, are closed off to students, which Kautter said was a missed educational opportunity for outside classrooms and scientific endeavors.
Some areas of the school are over-utilized while some experience light traffic, according to the study, and most windows and doors across the campus need to be repaired or replaced.
Various parts of the high school roof have exceeded their life expectancy, and district administrators have noted some areas are beginning to leak, according to the study.
To solve the school building's issues, architects presented three options with estimated costs ranging from $80 million to $170 million.
Option A (estimated cost: $80.5 million)
The first option would provide substantial renovations throughout the entire school building.
Replacements to the building include hardware; ceiling, wall and floor tiles; windows; doors; and HVAC equipment.
Code-compliant updates would come to the school's "annex," a former middle school south of the campus.
Upgrades to science classrooms are part of the option, along with improvements and expansions to the school's library, cafeteria, auditorium and administrative offices.
A new pedestrian plaza is planned adjacent to the high school cafeteria, according to the proposal.
The cost of the project could be spread out by constructing the project in phases, Kautter said.
Option B (estimated cost: $102.3 million)
The second option presented includes the same renovations included in option A but adds a partial demolition of the existing high school to be replaced with a 111,000-square-foot two-story addition around the location of the annex.
The new space would include modern science labs; larger classrooms, library and media center; and expanded parking and athletic facilities access.
According to the proposal, the project's phasing would minimize disruption to students while upgrades are made throughout the school year.
Option C (estimated cost: $120 million, or $170 million if started in 2030)
Kautter said his team "didn't give too much thought" on the third option, which would construct a new three-story, 315,000-square-foot high school.
There are many unknown factors associated with that the option, he said, including the accessibility and practicality of the proposed location immediately northeast of the current campus.
Kautter said he presented the option as a comparison.
The ground-up effort would ensure 21st-century facilities throughout the building and consolidate the sprawling campus into a smaller perimeter, but the finance professionals at the meeting said the district currently couldn't afford the option.
Under the proposal, the current high school would be demolished and its land would be turned into the green space.
If the board chose to delay action and choose Option C for construction in 2030, the cost would jump to about $170 million, according to estimates presented at the meeting.
Reaction: After the presentaion, board members were taken aback by the figures.
"I'm hearing a massive number, a massive-er number and the massive-est number," board member William Gingerich said.
Northeastern buildings and grounds committee chair Mike Redding said the district is "dealing with the legacy of the past," where patchwork construction over the decades has left a "challenging campus."
Redding said he recently visited the Spring Grove Area School District property and came away impressed by the consolidated campus. However, he said he couldn't justify the cost for a new high school.
"I'm scared to death with these numbers," he said.
Redding made it clear that no decisions have been made on a project — board members were simply presented with a summary of building issues and potential costs to rectify them, he said.
Northeastern school board President Margie Walker said the master plan booklet would keep board members up for many nights, but talks would continue.
Board members will tour the current high school building on Feb. 12 to see any issues first-hand.
Redding said he hopes the study will allow the board and district residents to be proactive.
"My goal is protecting taxpayers in the long-term," Redding said. "If we do this right, we'll save our taxpayers money."