Everything old is new again. Well, not quite.

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.

That, baby-boomers 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

theretofore regarded as immutable tradition. In many respects, Concord opened in 1969 very much a product of the 'do your own thing age'.

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 adaptations.

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 was

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 renovation spending.

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 concern.

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 operate them. 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.

Unlike 1969, 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 seamless.

The mathematics 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 break.

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 Wilmington.

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 it."

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