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Penn Hills' $58 million high school built to wow

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 9:22 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Above, Penn Hills Senior High School students make their way into a brand-new high school building that opened just in time for 2013.
Penn Hills Senior High School students and faculty members stroll the hallway leading to the library in their new high school on Thursday, December 20, 2012. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
The main skylight at the new Penn Hills Senior High School on Thursday, December 20, 2012. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
The cafeteria at Penn Hills Senior High School on Thursday, December 20, 2012. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Penn Hills Senior High School senior Deshawn Lucas, 18, takes a panoramic photo of the new cafeteria with his phone on Thursday, December 20, 2012. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
New computers fill a classroom in the new Penn Hills Senior High School on Thursday, December 20, 2012. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

When about 1,400 Penn Hills teenagers poured into their new high school on Thursday, many of them were excited — and loudly expressed their opinions.

“Cool,” “tight,” “nice” and “amazing” were some of the descriptions students used as they walked past two 55-inch, flat-screen TVs mounted on walls near one of the school's main entrances.

They toured the building. They won't begin taking classes there until January, after the holiday break.

“It's way bigger than our old one. It's way more up to date,” said senior Deshawn Lucas, 18, after taking a panoramic photo of the cafeteria with his iPhone.

The Penn Hills School District's new high school is at 309 Collins Drive, adjacent to the district's 53-year-old high school at 12200 Garland Drive that officials say will be demolished in January.

“The old one was antiquated ... and dark,” school board member Heather Hoolahan said.

The interior of the new building features wide hallways, a skylight over the library, and windows high on interior classroom walls that capture natural light coming in from skylights in the main corridors. Inside and out, the building features touches of the district's red-and-gold colors.

Construction on the 300,000-square-foot building started in 2010 under management of New York-based Turner Construction Co., a division of Dallas-based Turner Corp., which has an office Downtown. In September, the school board fired Turner, replacing it with Russo Construction Services in Plum.

The estimated cost of the building is $58 million, district spokeswoman Teresita Kolenchak said. The project is being done as part of a total $140 million facilities upgrade that includes building an elementary center, furnishing the high school and upgrading athletic facilities.

Designed by Architectural Innovations LLC in Ross, the two-story building features a 1,000-seat auditorium with state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems; skylights in the main corridors and automated drop-down gates that can be used to isolate parts of the building, said Dennis Russo, owner of Russo Construction.

While the old school had dead zones that prevented Internet connections, the new school has wired and wireless Internet service building wide. It will complement instruction, and each classroom will have four to six laptops with charging stations, Principal Eric Kostic said.

The security system will require visitors to be buzzed in by school personnel, and everyone entering will pass through metal detectors, Kostic said.

Russo also will lead the construction of an elementary center that will replace the three existing elementary schools. The elementary center will be built on the former site of Dible Elementary School on 1079 Jefferson Road, Kolenchak said.

Though only one elementary school — Penn Hebron — is in poor condition, the other two elementary schools don't have the capacity to accept Penn Hebron's students, Hoolahan said. The district decided it would be a more cost-effective solution to construct one building for all elementary students, she said. The monetary savings generated from consolidating elementary education will be used to help pay for the new elementary center, she said.

The elementary center is scheduled to be finished in August 2014, Russo said.

As of Dec. 3, there were 3,950 students in the Penn Hills School District, Kolenchak said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or Editor Patrick Varine contributed to this report. He can be reached at

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