New Thomas Jefferson High School expected to open for 2019-20
Administrators say the new Thomas Jefferson High School will be open for the 2019-20 school year — one year after the $95 million building originally was expected to open.
Superintendent Michael Ghilani promises the new school will be worth the wait.
“You have to get it right and you have to plan, and we’re talking about taxpayer dollars,” Ghilani said. “We can’t rush and sacrifice things just to get into a building within a certain timeline.”
Delays at the 300,000-square-foot school under construction on 161 acres off Old Clairton Road started early on in the project, when additional site work was required to get the ground ready for construction. That alone caused a 77-day setback.
Then, there was trouble securing laborers.
District leaders thought they could accelerate the project and finish by Thanksgiving, Ghilani said, but there was trouble with the “availability and performance of some of the contractors on site.”
They then hoped the move-in could occur over the holidays, but “we didn’t make up the time that we thought we would,” Ghilani said. Rain and falling temperatures complicated things.
Moving, Ghilani said, is going to take more than simply packing up and relocating. Everything, from transportation to how metal detectors operate in the new building, will be affected.
“We thought it was best just to take our time and make sure everything was done right and not rush anything,” Ghilani said.
Ghilani said he feels bad for the Class of 2019, whose students thought they would be attending the new high school.
While the classroom wings are almost complete, the inside of the building likely won’t be finished until April, Ghilani said. The final completion date still is to be determined.
The theater is “pretty far along,” Ghilani said. Sound clouds and rigging are up. The original seat manufacturer the district went with is going out of business, but a new source was found and seats are on-site in boxes. Carpeting will be delivered soon.
Other than bringing in the bleachers, the gyms are nearly complete, Ghilani said.
The pool is “a little behind” and still needs bleachers and a railing, he said. The tiling is being done now.
Installation of the terrazzo flooring in the hallways is “lagging a bit,” he said.
The cafeteria, however, is ready to go.
“It looks like we’re ready to serve lunch,” Ghilani said. “It’s done.”
All of the furniture for the new school has been purchased and is sitting in a storage warehouse in West Mifflin. It will be moved into the building as soon as possible, likely in March or April, Ghilani said.
Nearly all of the paving is done, with the exception of the back road and a small parking lot near the tennis courts. Because of the weather, the rest of the paving can’t start until April 1. Landscaping also will be done in the spring.
“When will every single person over there be off-site — no trailer, no trucks? You’re probably looking at early June to be safe,” Ghilani said.
District leaders have been taking people into the school every week for tours. The hope is to start taking groups of students to the new building to see the space.
Ghilani hopes that at the end of this school year — if it’s logistically possible — the district can do a test run and operate from the new building for one day to see how things go. That would give staff and administrators the entire summer to work out any kinks, he said.
The school, which is designed after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, is a mix of new and old.
“Our world language classes are going to look more like French bistros and be built for conversation,” Ghilani said.
The superintendent said the school — which will serve as a community resource — “is second to none.”
“I just think people are going to be blown away,” he said. “In a district where, until recently, we didn’t even have air conditioning in most of our buildings, we’re going to a state-of-the-art facility that has progressive design elements that little, if any, high schools have in the region, or even the state.”
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.