Shamokin Area Elementary School renovation nears completion
COAL TOWNSHIP - A renovation project 10 years in the making at Shamokin Area Elementary School is winding to a close.
Save for the remaining roof work to begin after school ends this June, renovations are almost complete.
The approximate $4 million overhaul provided cosmetic and mechanical upgrades - new flooring, new cafeteria equipment, new pumps for the cooling system, a new hot water heater, new bathroom fixtures.
There's also new hardware on all classroom doors, allowing them to now be locked by key from the inside, and a new security system at the main entryway.
Above all else, Principal Mary Theresa Komara says the school is now safer.
"The No. 1 priority, safety and security, has improved drastically," she said Thursday from inside her office. "Even before Sandy Hook," she continued, referencing the December slayings of 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school, "we wanted more security. The safety of students is our priority."
In the past, visitors would enter the school directly into the main hallway. Now, visitors must pass through a secure vestibule with two remotely locked doors to access the school's interior.
"The school board really wanted to enhance security," said Dave Petrovich, supervisor of buildings and grounds. "That's why we changed the whole entrance to the building."
The renovation project began in July but was discussed for about a decade prior. The project scope was once much larger; five times larger. Cost concerns forced district administrators to think smaller, and to think about what most needed upgrading.
"The whole plan was originally, we were going to spend $20 million, but $20 million would have cost the taxpayers a lot of money. So we narrowed it down to what had to be replaced, absolutely had to be," Petrovich said.
When the school year began in late August, the administrative offices and the cafeteria were displaced into the same space, the gymnasium. The offices were situated on the stage floor and the cafeteria - tables, warming stations and all - on the gym floor. But order was restored after the Christmas break, and the gymnasium is now simply a gymnasium.
New equipment at the cafeteria includes a commercial dishwasher, walk-in cooler/freezer, ovens and serving lines. The cafe itself has new ceiling tiles, lights and flooring.
New flooring was installed in many spaces throughout the school as some 10,000 square feet of carpeting was ripped up and replaced with vinyl composition tile. Ditching the old carpet combined with the cleaning of the entirety of duct work in the building will improve air quality, Petrovich said.
The project is funded by a low-interest $4.068 million federal loan.
Petrovich frequently lauded the work of maintenance staff in keeping costs under control. Of about 100 change orders submitted by various contractors on the project, he estimated about 30 were approved, totaling about $150,000, some of which had been anticipated.
The national average of change order costs on construction projects is 10 percent, he said, and Shamokin Area came in well under that.
Many plumbing, electrical and carpentry projects sought in those change orders that were deemed necessary but too costly were handled in-house, he said.
Visitors to the building will notice some changes. Many more are sealed behind walls, beneath floors or in rooms not usually accessed by visitors or, for that matter, anyone outside of the maintenance staff.
Upgrades were made to water lines and the heating system. The pumps that were replaced on the chiller came with the building when it opened in 1978. The new ones are now much more efficient.
The roofing project will pick up again in June. It's delayed so not to disrupt class, and so that any odors from the hot tar roof won't bother students and staff. He estimated about 20 percent of the work is left to be done.
Much of the work was pushed after school hours when class began in August to keep noise and clutter from causing a disruption.
Komara said there was little in the way of interruptions. There was talk of moving classrooms temporarily to accommodate contractors, but that never came to pass.
"The things that have been done, a lot of it can't be seen because it's inside the walls," she said. "It's a facelift that needed to happen."