"We felt we owned
them that as a gift for the way they put up with construction
all year," said John Read, who is managing the Brandywine School
District's renovation and modernization program.
The new room is a
rebirth of the former auditorium in the 72-year-old building on
Duncan Road near Bellefonte. The auditorium was virtually sealed
off for the past 20 years after being heavily damaged in two
arson fires. In a sense, that was symbolic of a building which
had been seeking a constructive use at the time.
About a third of it
has since been leased to the Edgemoor Community Center and
actually put up an addition. Another third was reopened several
years ago as an elementary school.
Read said it was
decided when drawing up the plans for renovation that a
traditional auditorium, like the one put there for use by a
junior-senior high school, would not be as functional as an
all-purpose assembly area. As now configured, it is a large room
with a platform stage at one end, which can seat between 200 and
300 people, depending upon whether it is set up with chairs and
tables or just chairs.
In addition to
serving the school, the room gives the district a large facility
to accommodate teacher training sessions and other activities
"no one has gotten around to thinking of yet," he said. It also
will be available for community use.
That is not the only
change associated with the Mount Pleasant Elementary renovation.
In fact, the entire project was revamped when planners had
second thoughts about what started out as a limited renovation.
The original idea
was to reopen the auditorium and replace the
heating-ventilation-air conditioning system and roof and let it
go at that. "When we got into it, we realized that it needed a
lot more -- a complete renovation. We had to rescope the entire
project," Read said.
Elementary operated this academic year in a near-normal mode
despite extensive renovations to the large building.
added, some tight budgeting and foregoing some unessential
elements -- such as putting in a new sidewalk -- enabled "us to
stick to the original budget." It totals $12 million. Some of
the things that have been skipped can later be financed as minor
capital expenditures in the district's regular budget, he said.
There was more than
ample justification for doing far more than originally intended,
he explained. The building, for instance, had only one elevator
and, as a result of the building's multi-level layout, did not
provide handicapped-access to the cafeteria.
The layout, he said,
produced all sorts of challenges. Constructed in 1931, there
were additions in the 1940s and 1950s and another in 1971. In
all cases it appears that the new areas were simply appended to
older ones. As a result, the building has "all kinds of nocks
and crannies, twists and turns" including bricked-up former
exterior windows inside and a stairway which actually goes
nowhere except up to the ceiling.
"It's like an
archeological dig where you uncover an old city layer by layer,"
Read said. "This building is a maze. Some times you feel like
you have to leave a trail of bread crumbs to find your way
challenge, though, was integrating construction with operating
an elementary school in as close to a normal mode as possible.
It originally had been planned to do the partial renovation
during the 2003 and 2004 summer recesses. Instead, workers had
to be on the job from 4 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. during the school
year. Bancroft Construction is construction manager.
For the most part,
Read said, the two very different activities flowed reasonably
harmoniously along parallel courses, staying out of each other's
way. The workers made sure they cleaned up and made safe areas
through which the children had to pass. The ultimate joint
venture was successfully installing an elevator shaft just
outside a cafeteria which the students used daily.
"Everyone was great
about putting up with the inconveniences," he said. "Most of the
kids loved it -- because they got to see [the construction] as
it went along."
The ultimate irony
in doing it that way lies in the fact that Mount Pleasant
Elementary previously shared it building -- which is large
enough to accommodate 1,000 students -- over the course of three
academic years, when part of it served as a 'holding school' for
Chichester, River Road and Maple Lane Elementary Schools while
those buildings were being renovated. The schools -- with
enrollments smaller than 500 students each -- operated
separately, but shared common facilities, such as the cafeteria
and gymnasium. During the coming year, Forwood Elementary will
be there and Lombardy Elementary is scheduled to follow in the
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