Kiski Area Upper Elementary School on schedule to open for next academic year
For about a year, Josh Weaver has been a principal without a building.
That will change in early September when the Kiski Area School District opens its new Kiski Area Upper Elementary School in Washington Township.
Kiski Area Upper Elementary is the district's first new school since Mamont Elementary opened in 1997.
It will bring together fifth- and sixth-grade students from the district's six previously open elementary schools.
The school is the result of a $20 million renovation and enlargement of the former North Washington Elementary school.
Construction is scheduled to be substantially completed Aug. 16.
The first day of school is Sept. 3.
“We'll be ready,” Weaver said during a recent tour of the school, which about two months out is still an active construction site.
Weaver, 32, was principal of Springdale Junior-Senior High School before Kiski Area hired him in May 2012. Work on the school he will lead started in August.
“It's been a busy year,” he said. “Somehow, I stayed extremely busy all year.”
About 80 percent of the upper elementary is all-new; the remaining 20 percent is the old school, renovated to the point it will be unrecognizable. For instance, North Washington's combined cafeteria and gymnasium will be the Upper Elementary's band room.
An orientation is planned for parents and students to see the school before classes start. A date has not been set.
The school's completion is on schedule despite problems related to the cold spring weather and issues encountered in the existing building, said project manager Steve Peterman of Massaro Construction Management Services. The district hired Massaro to oversee construction.
Issues in the school included things that, based on the original drawings, were supposed to be there and weren't, and things that were not supposed to be there that were, Peterman said.
An average of 115 people work at the site daily.
“We're working hard to get back on track, and we appear to be right now,” Peterman said. “All the contractors are really manning up and putting forth their best efforts to get the project completed on time.”
The upper elementary is the centerpiece of the district's $30 million elementary building project.
It stemmed from suggestions by Superintendent John Meighan and school board member James Summerville in October and November 2010, when a committee of district officials and residents were considering numerous options for how to set up the district's elementary schools.
Creating a school for fifth- and sixth-graders arose over moving sixth-grade students to the district's intermediate school; the 12-acre North Washington site was chosen over Allegheny-Hyde Park.
“I think we're going to redefine the Kiski Area community,” Summerville said. He's hopeful residents will come to see the new school.
“They're going to see what they're paying for. They'll see the forward thinking and the focus on education,” he said. “I think we've done a good thing there. I think they'll be proud of it.”
The upper elementary school is expected to house between 560 and 570 students in its first year and grow to more than 600 in a year or two, Weaver said.
It will have a staff of 24 core teachers plus a guidance counselor, nurse and teachers in art, music, physical education and technology.
Jim Feudale, a reading and language arts teacher, will come to the school from Laurel Point Elementary. He's taught in Kiski Area for 23 years, 13 at Laurel Point.
At the new school, he'll teach humanities and social studies.
“I think it's going to be exciting. It's going to be something the fifth- and sixth-grade kids coming in are really going to enjoy,” he said. “They're going to have a lot of opportunities to do a lot of things.”
While some students aren't too crazy about the change, Feudale hopes they'll feel differently once they get inside.
“Our first year is going to be quite a learning curve for everybody as we get used to a new building and a new way of life,” he said. “It will be a challenge. I think it will be a good challenge.”
The curriculum will be focused on science, technology, engineering and math, collectively called “STEM.” A robotics lab has been added to the school.
As students climb or descend the school's main stairwell, which has yet to be installed, they will ascend or descend through layers of the earth's geologic time.
The STEM focus will come after the early elementary concentration on literacy and reading, Weaver said.
“It's so in six years from now, we're graduating students more focused in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math,” Weaver said. “That's where the jobs are and where trends show the jobs are going to be.”
In addition to the school's own technology, Weaver said they will test allowing students to bring in their own — laptops, smartphones, tablets and e-readers.
The school's classrooms are clustered in “families” of four, with small breakout rooms between pairs of rooms.
While seemingly large, the school features small-group rooms and meeting spaces throughout.
One large feature is the school's full-size gymnasium, intended to be used districtwide.
A $10,000 grant from Consol Energy will pay for a greenhouse in the school's courtyard, where students will grow vegetables that will be used in its kitchen, Weaver said.
“There's no reason every area of school can't be a learning space,” he said of the courtyard.
Students will be offered extracurricular activities, such as sports and clubs, that they didn't have before.
“I think the opportunity here is unlimited,” Weaver said.
The school's parent-teacher organization has been put together with members from the district's six elementary schools open for the 2012-13 school year, so everyone is represented, said PTO President Heidi Hileman of Washington Township.
Hileman's 10-year-old son will start fifth grade at the new school; her 12-year-old son will be in seventh grade at the district's intermediate school. They both previously attended Mamont, where she headed the school's PTA.
“I'm really excited about it. I think it's going to provide really good educational opportunities for the kids,” she said. “It sounds like it's going to be a really good, fun environment for them to learn in with lots of opportunities they've not had in the past. They're going to have a lot of clubs — a lot related to educational things, some not.
“It's going to be a new experience for them,” she said. “I know my younger son is super excited about going there. My older son is disappointed, hearing about all the things they're going to experience.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.