Woodland Hills Academy students, staff to move into Swissvale school

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:04 p.m.

The Woodland Hills School District's $15 million renovation of its historic academy building in Turtle Creek will take place during the coming school year without any students or staff present.

Woodland Hills Academy students and staff will relocate to the former Word of God School in Swissvale — which Woodland Hills is leasing for a year from the Diocese of Pittsburgh for $120,000 — while the renovation is completed.

“The (academy building) is pretty old, and I think it needs to be renovated. … I wouldn't want a child at the school while they're doing renovations,” said North Braddock resident Kia Dunn, whose daughter, 10, is a fifth-grader in Woodland Hills Academy. Her two sons, now 16 and 17, attended the academy.

The 95-year-old academy building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has not undergone a major renovation since the 1930s, said Daniel Stephens, an administrator overseeing the project. The building on Monroeville Avenue once was Turtle Creek High School.

The extensive renovation will include updating fixtures in each room; asbestos abatement; furniture replacement; plumbing, electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades or replacements; filling in the pool; and adding an elevator to make the school compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, school officials said.

The work is expected to start on Aug. 11 and be finished by Aug. 15, 2015, Stephens said.

The district opened bids from general contractors on Tuesday, and the school board will make a selection on Monday, he said.

The academy, which has 51 teachers, enrolls kindergarten through eighth-grade students from the 12 municipalities that make up the Woodland Hills School District. About 480 students were enrolled at the academy in the 2013-14 school year.

The renovation will be paid for with part of the money left from a $50 million bond issue from 2005, school board member Regis Driscoll said.

Board President Robert Tomasic said he thinks money spent on renovating the academy is being wasted, and the school district should find a way to keep students at the leased school in Swissvale.

More than a decade ago, an architect told the district that it would cost $30 million to renovate the building to state specifications, and it would be better to demolish and replace it with a new school, he said.

Driscoll said a complete renovation is not being done, which is why the price is lower.

Driscoll noted that the district approved the academy renovation in 2013 and if the project were canceled, the district could lose millions of dollars in penalties to contractors who have started working.

With eight schools, Woodland Hills officials generally agree that the district has excess building capacity that needs to be addressed. However, Driscoll said, it doesn't make sense to close the academy, which is one of its larger buildings.

“You don't close your bigger schools. You close your smaller schools,” he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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