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Chester County Press

Kennett School Board considers Greenwood and New Garden building options

03/28/2022 02:31PM ● By Steven Hoffman
The Kennett School Board is looking into the future of the New Garden and Greenwood elementary schools’ facilities, with an eye toward rebuilding.
Both schools have served well beyond a half century and are aging. New Garden Elementary School in New Garden Township was built in 1957. Greenwood Elementary School in Kennett Township was built in 1963.  They are 65 and 59 years old, respectively. 
The Kennett School Board Finance Committee on March 14 hosted Michael Bell and Stephen Behrens, two principals from Breslin Architects, the firm chosen in October to handle the project and report on their progress. 
Director of Facilities and Construction George Wolhafe introduced the two speakers, assuring the committee members that what they were about to hear was neither a recommendation or a feasibility study. 
Rather, he said, the men were about to address their research so far on what would turn out to be a 10-year plan with a cost that approaches $100 million.
Bell spoke first, outlining the structures and layouts of the current buildings.
With multiple slides of diagrams, he described what the schools look like now and what the Pennsylvania Department of Education requires for new buildings. 
Whatever the district does must meet standards honoring future enrollment and building to suit ratios of “educational” and “noneducational” program space. 
Bell cited standards from the department that guarded against the construction of what he said has been referred to as building a “Taj Mahal” school building. 
The diagrams he posted showed increases in numbers of classrooms and modest changes in location of various other interior spaces for both buildings.
Behrens then took the stage to offer diagrams of the buildings compared to how the work might be carried out.
He then announced that one option which has been discussed was constructing completely new buildings on both sites. He showed lists of disadvantages versus benefits of both, citing space, time and costs.
He outlined the disadvantages of renovating the existing buildings, which include the following: The difficulty of complying with Pennsylvania Department of Education standards; higher maintenance costs to deal with for things like old plumbing and wiring; new compliance problems showing up during construction; longer time for the construction process; limited technology available; and constraints on space for the students during the construction.
The advantages of building completely new schools on his list are the following: There will be warranties on the work; the work will be done in a shorter time; the new building will be eligible for “green design”; the building will be energy efficient; the building process will be safe and secure; the new buildings will have a “fresh look.”
The caveat was that although building new schools would immediately cost more, in the long run maintenance and other costs added to the old buildings would ultimately make renovations more expensive.
One slide that gave pause was the map showing placement of old schools overlayed with positions of the new schools.
Both appeared to place the new schools in the old school playground spaces.  
Behrens noted that New Garden sits on a large property and could probably accommodate the construction of a new school while operations in the current building were going on.
The diagram of the new school overlay on the Greenwood property showed a tighter fit, and he added that a steeper slope would also have to be accommodated.
School Board Finance Committee chairman Michael Finnegan commented after the presentation that he has spoken with some people about the options, and they seem to like the new construction plan.
School district Chief Financial Officer Mark Tracy followed the architects’ presentations with a report on how the project debt service could be handled most efficiently over periods up to 20 years. 
The public will be invited later on for a report on a feasibility study and to offer comment, but school board president Victoria Gehrt said the date of that meeting has not yet been established.