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Franklin Regional undertakes evaluation of district facilities

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, 10:30 p.m.
Franklin Regional High School, along with the rest of the district's facilities, will undergo a feasability study over the next six months. The school was built in the late 1960s.
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Franklin Regional High School, along with the rest of the district's facilities, will undergo a feasability study over the next six months. The school was built in the late 1960s.

Franklin Regional School District officials have hired an architectural firm to conduct a full facilities and feasibility study and this week hosted a town-hall meeting to engage residents in the process.

“We know something needs done with our current facilities,” Superintendent Jamie Piraino told about 65 residents and district employees Tuesday night. “But what meets our needs as a community? That's part of what you all will contribute to this process.”

Dan Engen, from VEBH Architects in Mt. Lebanon, is heading up the study.

“Our goal over the next six months will be looking and listening, and to think in terms of decades as opposed to just a few years ahead,” Engen said.

Piraino said VEBH will take “an objective look at all aspects of the district's facilities,” from buildings, classroom layout and infrastructure to heating and ventilation systems.

“We need to take a hard look at our facilities and determine what we'll need over the next 60 years,” said school board member John Koury, who chaired the district's facilities committee.

Newlonsburg Elementary is the oldest of the district's facilities, built in 1928. Its other buildings were added between 1952 and 1969. Including the main campus and Sloan Elementary, the district occupies about 180 acres in Murrysville.

Over the past few years, the district has seen the consequences of time through “surprises,” such as boilers failing, air-conditioning problems and other issues, Koury said.

“As a research-and-development facility manager, I had a very similar experience of facing down the practical issues with a facility that is nearly 60 years old,” he said.

District officials are planning two meetings:

• On Jan. 12, VEBH's facilities assessment will be presented to the public.

• On Feb. 27, a meeting will present choices moving forward, whether they are renovation, construction or other options.

During a question-and-answer session, Piraino was asked if the meetings were meant to generate a community wish list for its schools, or to gauge residents' willingness to accept higher taxes depending on what options are chosen.

Piraino said the district is considering all points of view.

“There will be a presentation of our options. Is there a cost component to that? Certainly,” he said. “But we want to plan what we can do in a way that is responsible to taxpayers.”

A resident asked whether construction or renovations would include a green-energy component. Engen said it is likely and that such an investment can serve multiple functions.

“You might not have 100 solar panels because they're expensive, but you may have 10,” he said. “And you're able to show (students) how they work and how they're beneficial, so they can also function as a teaching tool.”

Engen said flexibility is key as the district moves forward — that the ability to use the same space in multiple ways is crucial to 21st century education. He said VEBH officials will be spending time with staff and teachers to get their input and will provide the school board and community with regular updates.

“As outsiders, it's less about passion and more about numbers,” he said. “People get used to doing things a certain way and may not even realize that there is a better or more efficient way to do them.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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