But, as renovation
of Concord High School moves into the third and final
construction phase, it is obvious that the finished product will
be markedly different in several respects from what more than a
generation of students and their teachers knew.
"You wouldn't go out
and buy a 1971 Chevrolet," said John Read, project manager for
the Brandywine School District's building renovation and
modernization program. Before the current work at Concord began
nearly a year ago, the building was, in many respects, the
architectural equivalent of an early 1970s model.
and their elders will recall, was a time of challenge and
change. There was substantial bias against institutional
correctness and a strong urge to mutilate what had been
regarded as immutable tradition. In many respects, Concord
opened in 1969 very much a product of the 'do your own thing
The 'open campus'
educational philosophy, a hand-me-down from some besieged
universities, gradually faded during the ensuing decade, but the
bricks-and-mortar necessarily remained, albeit with some
While all that has
led to a popular belief that the Concord building was rife with
defects -- some obvious, many hidden -- Read said that attitude
exaggerated as style
was confused with substance. "We've had no more problems [nor
found] more surprises than would be normal on a project this
size," he said.
By any standard, the
Concord renovation is major. The job is budgeted at just over
$25 million, with the actual construction cost coming in between
$18 million and $19 million. That is the largest single capital
outlay ever undertaken by Brandywine or its predecessor school
districts. There is no readily available information to say
where that ranks among schools statewide, but it obviously is
near the top of the list and may well take the record for
The most serious
building defect involved exterior brickwork, but Read said that,
too, inspired exaggeration. "There were isolated brick failures
in the top six feet or so," he said, adding that that was "more
than cosmetic," but had not reached a point where it was
hazardous. In any event, he said, all bricks have now been
"refastened to the building" and they are no longer a cause for
That is not to say
there was not a need for some basic change. Probably the most
significant was converting Concord from a 'two-pipe' to a
'four-pipe' building. That is jargon for providing separate
piping for heating and air-conditioning so that the systems can
operate independently of each other. Until now, it was necessary
to shut one down before the other could be started.
In practical terms,
that meant establishing a date certain in autumn to go from
cooling to heating and vice versa in spring. Once the switch was
made, Read said, "there was no going back" to deal with the
inevitable days where temperatures were bucking the seasonal
trend. Like many features in building-renovation work, that
change will be felt but not seen. The pipes, of course, are
hidden by ceiling tiles.
Another bit of
updating involved reversing the swing paths of doors so
entrances to all rooms would meet the requirements of the
Americans with Disabilities Act without the necessity of having
to rebuild all the entranceways.
Reversing the doors provided 18 inches of clear space on either
side of the door latch to enable persons in wheelchairs to
If realigning doors
to gain a requisite three inches seems to be a minor adjustment,
consider that there are 384 doors in the building.
The building is now
totally handicapped-accessible, including an elevator serving
the two-story structure.
When rebuilding any
working facility, the object is to meet, to the maximum extent
possible, the desires and requirements of the people who work
there. That often comes down to the proverbial 'little details'.
It so happens that the teaching profession is now split over
whether classrooms are best equipped with blackboards or
whiteboards. In that case, Read said, compromise was the better
part of valor. Each Concord classroom now has two black and two
white -- and the betting is that, sooner or later, all four will
be used in most.
Concord's faculty and students will not enter a totally new
world when the building reopens in time for the coming academic
year. Construction has gone on around them with the three phases
timed to make that possible without intermingling the two
activities. Read said the necessary shifting has been nearly
department, for instance, had been relocated from its
first-floor quarters to the second floor last September. It was
moved back to the renovated first floor during the recent spring
During the current
year, most classes are being conducted in modular units placed
in the parking lot on the Naamans Road side of the building, but
facilities such as the gymnasium and cafeteria were available
without interruption. That was not true of the auditorium.
Nevertheless, the show-must-go-on tradition was upheld; the
spring musical was presented in the Grand theater in downtown
Throughout the job,
areas in the building where construction was going on were
physically blocked off and isolated from areas where teaching
was happening. And, to avoid, noise and similar disruption, the
construction workers were there from 3 p.m. until 11 p.m., after
the school day.
Read said they
probably will work at least two shifts -- and possibly three at
times -- after the academic year ends in mid-June in order to
meet the scheduled August completion date. The timetable is
"extremely tight," he said, but with the second phase completed,
except for the library, on Apr. 8, "it looks like we can make
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