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ELCO High School is getting an expansion, facelift and other improvements that, district officials told LebTown, were long overdue.
Eastern Lebanon County School District‘s high school was built in Myerstown in 1962 and last underwent major renovations in 1992, business manager Michael Miller explained. The current project, which got underway last June and is expected to conclude in November 2024, is providing some much-needed enhancements to the space.
District superintendent Julia Vicente said the faculty, staff and students are excited to see the project completed.
“We’ve been anxiously waiting for a while,” she said. “They’re all looking forward to this wrapping up. … It’s been a process.”
The 2 1/2-year project focuses on the high school alone and is not affecting any other buildings in the district, Vicente said. The centerpiece of the plan is a new STEM wing, which will be used primarily for subjects such as agriculture and technology education.
Miller said the wing will add nearly 30,000 square feet of instructional space to the school, expanding the footprint from 170,000 square feet to 198,000.
The multipurpose wing will include classrooms, labs, shop space and a new greenhouse, Vicente said. It’s being built in what was previously a school parking lot; the superintendent said additional parking spaces will be added elsewhere on campus to make up for the loss.
Otherwise, Vicente characterized the remainder of the work as mostly a “reconstruction” of the existing school, with “a great deal of interior renovations” and other work to modernize the building.
“The main purpose for this work is curricular and, of course, where we can, updating safety,” she said.
The $38 million project is reorganizing existing spaces “better optimize the use of the space that we have,” Vicente said. “The project really just reorganizes the space we have in the high school, giving us additional instructional space.”
When completed, the high school will have distinct areas for tech and science, English and social studies, and science, math and business education. Teachers in each department will be able to work side-by-side, rather than being scattered throughout the building.
“We’re going to be able to offer many more types of courses,” she added. “For instance, right now we don’t offer anything in food science. When this is done, we’ll be able to offer food science. We’ll have better facilities to offer a welding program for our students. … Also, ag mechanics is going to be bigger and better than ever.”
Vicente credited high school principal Jennifer Haas with sitting down with faculty members during the planning process to determine in detail their needs for the project.
The school currently houses approximately 765 students in grades 9 through 12, Miller said. The school is not overcrowded, he said, so the project did not address any capacity issues.
Upgrades to infrastructure
Also included in the project are improvements to the school’s physical plant. Vicente noted that in 2018, the school was shut down because its pipes had frozen.
“We realized we had to work on our infrastructure. The infrastructure hadn’t been updated since 1992,” she said. “So we started to modernize the insides.”
Fortunately, Miller said, some much-needed work on the school’s HVAC system was done in advance of this project. That piece of the plan was completed in 2020, he said, which was a lucky bit of planning — currently, he explained, supply-chain issues are delaying a lot of HVAC projects, but that won’t affect ELCO’s schedule at all.
Otherwise, Vicente said, the interior of the building is “going to be refreshed.”
“We know the importance of having a clean and cheerful environment for student achievement,” she added. “There is going to be some modernization in our classrooms of furniture, of fixtures and technology.”
The administration offices are going to be refurbished, she said, and the entrance to the district office is going to be made more secure.
Miller noted in a previous interview that the $38 million cost of construction will be paid primarily through four fixed-rate bond issues spread over the life of the project, federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grants, and property taxes. Doug Dresch, director of buildings and grounds for the district, is serving as ELCO’s in-house project manager.
Minimal classroom disruption
Vicente said administrators are make “strategic use” of the new wing to circulate other classroom spaces out of the high school so work can proceed without interruption. For the most part, she said, construction has not interfered with ongoing classes, although she said there were a few minor noise issues to deal with.
The district office will be moved over the summer while that space is refurbished, she said.
Weather has caused a few minor delays in the work, Vicente added, but nothing significant enough to shift the anticipated date of completion. Similarly, she said, there have been a few minor change orders as work has progressed, but “nothing that’s been a major roadblock,” and nothing that will significantly alter the cost.
She noted the plan also includes improvements to parking outside of the school, with more spaces out front for staff and visitors, and more spaces in the back for students.
“And for parents who for years have been caught in the bottleneck of student drop-off and pick-up, that’s going to be alleviated,” she added. New traffic pattern will take parents out of the loops used by school buses, she said, so traffic at the start and end of each school day will flow more quickly and smoothly.
“That’s huge, and it will mean a lot to people who pick their children up at the high school,” she said.
Vicente said her only disappointment in the plan is a barn, which was taken out of the plan because of cost, but which she hopes eventually to bring back to the campus profile.
“Our FFA program is one of the best there is,” she said, “and so we’re hoping in the future to bring that barn onto campus.”
Eastern Lebanon County School District serves students from Jackson, Heidelberg, and Milcreek townships, and Myerstown and Richland boroughs.
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