Avon Grove breaks ground on new high school
By Steven Hoffman
The Avon Grove School District officially broke ground on the new 298,000-square-foot high school on June 24.
At approximately 3:20 p.m., a team of school district administrators and school board members picked up the shovels that were lined up in a mound of dirt and dug into the soft soil. Over the next few minutes, more Avon Grove officials, Penn Township supervisors, and some of the members of the design and construction team, took turns lifting away some scoops of earth from the site along Sunnyside Road. The ceremonial groundbreaking signals that big improvements are coming for Avon Grove’s students as the largest project in the school district’s history is now officially underway.
Calling it a joyous day for Avon Grove, superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese talked about how the new high school will benefit children in the school district for decades to come.
“As we stand here today, the pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty. But what is certain is that Avon Grove has a bright future and this community has something that, for years, they can be proud of,” Marchese said.
School board president Bill Wood said, “It is my hope, and my belief, that this school—for decades to come—will be a place to celebrate our students. What happens inside the walls of the new high school be be something the whole community can be proud of for decades to come.”
The new high school is being designed by KCBA Architects. D’Huy Engineering is handling the project management during the construction phase. The new high school is slated to open in time for the start of the school year that begins in September of 2022.
Avon Grove’s current high school was constructed in 1957, when the technology students needed for class wasn’t any more sophisticated than pencils, paper, and chalkboards. There were also a lot fewer students in the Avon Grove School District back then.
The new high school will feature nearly 298,000 square feet of space spread out over three floors. There are 56 regular classrooms and 35 other classrooms that are designed for special uses, such as collaborative learning. The auditorium will be large enough for 1,000 seats and the main gymnasium will have 2,000 seats.
Marchese said that, in the new high school, teachers and students will be able to make the most of 21st Century technology and best practices in education, including collaboration.
“The new Avon Grove High School provides a multitude of opportunities to enhance student learning,” Marchese said. “The building’s design includes a strong emphasis on flexible instructional opportunities. These opportunities are visible through the learning spaces that support our STEM-based curriculum. Additional design features that promote further opportunities include the outdoor courtyard, and the learning stairs. A state-of-the-art auditorium will enhance the productions and performances for our students involved in theater, music and sound. Our students will also benefit from the expanded facility options that support the health and physical education curriculum and athletic programs.”
A few dozen people, mostly school district officials, members of the construction team, and Penn Township supervisors, gathered on the site for the groundbreaking ceremony. The event was not open to the public because of the ongoing effort to promote for social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, the groundbreaking ceremony was recorded and can be viewed on the school district’s website at www.avongrove.org.
A number of guest speakers talked about the significance of the new school and what it will mean to Avon Grove.
Victor Mantegna, the vice chairman of the Penn Township Board of Supervisors, said, “In a few minutes, we’re going to be picking up shovels and turning over dirt, the same dirt farmers have been turning over for over 100 years.”
Mantegna said that those farmers have grown food that provided nourishment for people. Now, the land will have a new purpose as generations of future leaders will be educated in the new school.
Wood talked about how the new high school will be a focal point for the entire community for sports, the arts, cultural events, and social gatherings.
“This new high school will—quite literally—belong to the community,” he said, explaining that the new high school is being designed to allow for community involvement.
He emphasized the importance of good schools to any community.
“A community that doesn’t invest in its schools is a dying community,” Wood said. “It is undeniable that it is the quality of public schools that attracts and keeps young families living in a community.”
Wood pledged that the school district will be willing to listen to any concerns or issues that are raised by people who live in the area around the new high school.
“We do want to be a good neighbor,” Wood said, pledging to listen attentively and responding quickly to issues that are raised.
Wood thanked the current school board members, as well as former school board members like Ed Farina, Charles Beatty, Brian Gaerity, and Patrick Walker, for all the work that went into getting the project to this point.
Marchese echoed the sentiment. “There have been many, many, many people who have participated to get us to this point where this dream is a reality for our community,” he said.
While the seeds of this project were planted with a facilities study that was started six years ago, the school district has actually been eyeing a project to meet the long-term facilities needs of the school district for much longer than that.
Marchese noted that the school district originally purchased the Sunnyside Road site in 2007. The plan at the time was to construct a new middle school. District officials backed away from that plan and several years passed without any progress on addressing the district’s facilities needs. About six years ago, Marchese explained, the school board authorized a facilities study that analyzed the conditions and needs of the school buildings.
Gilbert Architects, Inc. compiled and delivered a 203-page facilities study in February of 2015. That study reinforced what everyone already knew: Avon Grove’s secondary schools were too small to meet the educational needs of students.
At the time of the study, enrollment at the high school was approximately 1800 students, while the capacity was approximately 1,433 students. The district relied on 12 portable classrooms at the high school and eight more portable classrooms at the middle school just to have enough classrooms to fit the students. There was little that could be done to the core spaces like the cafeteria, the gym, and the auditorium. Despite renovations in 1995, 1997, and 2008, the high school was also inadequate when it came to the technology and advanced courses that are a part of the 21st century high school.
The lack of space at the current high school impacted the educational program in various ways. Study halls often take place in the auditorium and the school can only accommodate about 36 percent of the demand for STEM and technology education classes. Science teachers aren’t able to offer laboratory-based courses. Collaboration is very limited.
The high school also has mechanical deficiencies, including HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems and roofing that must be improved in order for the school to continue to serve students.
In May of 2016, the district formed the Facilities Input Group, a task force comprised of a broad cross-section of the Avon Grove community—district administrators, parents from every school, residents from each municipality, current and former school board members, and other stakeholders. They set out to evaluate the district’s school buildings and how well they support the educational needs of students. In September of 2017, the Facilities Input Group delivered a recommendation to the full school board. That recommendation was to build a new middle school.
Following that recommendation, the district held 23 listening posts for stakeholders to share input about the district’s facilities needs. In the spring of 2018, the school board identified the construction of a new high school as the favored option to address the district’s long-term facilities needs. Since then, work on designing the school has been a major focus for school district officials.
Marchese and Wood both thanked the administrators, teachers, employees, and volunteers in the community who participated in some of the meetings that have taken place during the last six years.
Marchese credited Carsley with putting in countless hours behind the scenes to work on various issues related to the project, utilizing his financial acumen and his astute attention to detail for the benefit of the school district.
Marchese thanked KCBA Architects, Snyder Hoffman Associates, Terraform Engineering, and D’Huy Engineering, Inc. for their work in getting the project to this point. The design and construction team for the project also includes Lobar, Inc. (general contractor), Matchline Mechanical, LLC (mechanical contractor), Philips Brothers, Inc. (electrical contractor).
Wood added that he wanted to offer “a deep and heartfelt thank you” to the entire Avon Grove community for funding this investment in public education.
Now that the project is underway, Avon Grove officials are looking forward to the completion of the new high school.
“We are very excited to see the final product in a short 24 months,” Marchese said.