NORTH PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT

New school wing could add classroom space, ease congestion

Board reviews latest options for North Penn High School renovation

Site plan for proposed renovations to North Penn High School, showing new additions to the school’s J-pod, between A-pod and H-pod, and behind the school auditorium outlined in red, as presented on June 4, 2024.

  • Schools

The North Penn School Board could pass a key milestone later this month toward long-discussed renovations of North Penn High School.

District officials saw the latest plans, heard details of cost estimates, and previewed a vote that could steer the shape of that project.

“I’d like to recommend that the board authorize the administration to take all the necessary steps, to prepare for a vote on a schematic design at the June 20th action meeting, for the renovation of North Penn High School,” said Superintendent Todd Bauer.

    North Penn High School staff leave an exit from the school’s A-pod, where an addition could be built connecting that wing of the school and the nearby H-pod, at left, on June 11, 2024.
 By Dan Sokil | The Reporter 
 
 

On Jan. 16 voters vetoed a referendum question asking taxpayers to authorize $97 million in borrowing which would have funded moving ninth-grade students from the district’s three middle schools into the high school. Since that vote, staff and the district’s architect have said they’re working on refining the renovation design to largely maintain the 1970s-era existing building while modernizing the school’s utilities and layout where possible.

“There were questions about, is there something in between these two plans. And the answer to that is, yes there is. We’ve been spending the last few months trying to prioritize, and see what can fit,” Bauer said.

Adding a wing

Bauer and architect David Schrader gave an update Tuesday, showing how the latest plans build on a feature first presented in late March: a wing of classrooms that could be built between the school’s current A-pod and H-pods, creating an entrance for students and staff, space that could be used as other “pods” of the school are renovated, and could help reduce congestion through the rest of the school.

“We want to update our spaces to allow for the programs that exist now, as opposed to the programs that existed in the 1970s. The high school was built for 2,400 students. We did put K-pod in the front (in the 1990s) but did not increase space throughout the regular part of the building: in the cafeterias, and the arteries, and the hallways, to contain 3,100 kids,” Bauer said.

Schrader then showed an updated site plan, with new spaces added behind the school auditorium for music classes, and an expanded J-pod for athletic uses, the transportation center just below its current location on the west side of the school campus. A new addition to the building will replace modular classrooms discussed in earlier talks as space to be used while the various pods are renovated.

Outside the school, two new tennis courts would be added near the current courts south of the school, and the adjacent marching band practice area would be reconfigured, with two new playing fields added on the former WNPV radio property north of the school near Snyder Road.

“We would just want the approval to move ahead with the basic idea you’re seeing here, and at that point, we would get back into those rendering concepts you saw before,” Schrader said.

“For the vast majority of the project, the intent is to what we had talked about the building; renovation of the floors, ceilings, walls, windows, and all systems: HVAC, electrical plumbing, fire protection, and so on,” he said.

The current J-pod would be converted from health classrooms and art uses into an athletic training space, expanded to allow a better flow of students walking through and house fitness areas currently on the school’s second floor and not accessible to some students or staff.

“If you’ve never been in our weight room and fitness center, there is zero elevator access to that space. I believe that space originally was used for, like, archery and a shooting range, back in the ’70s — it’s a long space, above the gymnasium; a student with mobility issues or challenges, cannot access that space,” Bauer said.

Open-air

The current A-pod, C-pod and E-pod could be reconfigured with some classroom walls opened up with windows, “a little bit more visibly transparent,” and the school cafeteria in B-pod could be converted into a food court setting. The new addition between A-pod and H-pod would include stairs and an elevator letting students and staff access the upper floor, and a new stairway could be added near the auditorium so students can access the upstairs more quickly while enclosing a courtyard that’s currently not secured.

    Site plan for proposed renovations to North Penn High School, showing student movement patterns through the current building highlighted in red and through a school courtyard highlighted in green, as presented on June 4 2024.
 North Penn School District 
 
 

“Today, that courtyard is just grass, and there is a sidewalk through there. The idea here is that you can come out of that main hallway, and in nice weather circulate directly back to A-pod, E-pod, or that new rear entry, and have something that students might want to come out and sit in, rather than just pass through as fast as they can,” Schrader said.

Bauer added that doing so would require removing space that’s currently used as a conference room by the high school’s principal, moving “a huge generator,” and adding sidewalks. “If they want to go outside now, they have to make this right, go up a ramp, and traverse the infamous E-pod clog, and then there’s a doorway to take them out. They can avoid all of that, with this design, and go straight out into the courtyard.”

Timeline toward 2030

The architect then presented several timeline options, with some early renovation work bid out by the end of year, procurement in early 2025, and construction starting in the summer of 2025. Larger equipment like electrical switch gear could be ordered early in the process, with the entire project bid and awarded in spring 2025, with construction starting that summer and likely running through 2030. “This could be as much as a five-and-a-half-year construction project, as you phase yourself around the building,” Schrader said.

Board member Christian Fusco asked how the new addition would impact the phasing of the project, and Schrader said the new addition would be slightly smaller than the original modulars, with more moves required during construction than the roughly one-third-per-year in initial concepts, and the details will be finalized as plans are taken from schematics to formal designs.

Fusco asked if the team had looked into putting a roof atop the courtyard, and Schrader said his team had looked into doing so, but “it’s a significant cost.” Board member Juliane Ramic asked if the architect had considered converting the cafeteria space into classrooms and putting food services elsewhere, and Schrader said they had, but were again limited by cost.

Board member Kunbi Rudnick asked if the team had considered tracking student movements to better identify bottlenecks: “to understand the correlation between the classes they take, and the patterns of their movements,” to see if classes could be moved in the building to reduce congestion. Bauer said he and the design team would look into options.

Pricetag examined

Project construction manager Jamie Lynch of D’Huy Engineering outlined cost estimates, based on the typical average costs his firm seems for various classes of light, medium and heavy renovation versus new construction in similar projects. A first attempt at totaling costs for the construction, site work, demolition work, the new transportation building, and soft costs including furniture and permits came to a total of roughly $245 million, with roughly $26 million more as a contingency, yielding an early total estimated cost of $272 million.

“We went to work right away on driving that number downward,” he said.

Savings from that initial figure could be identified by pre-ordering heavy equipment to minimize inflation over time, identifying possible cost reductions like bidding certain components as bid alternates instead of separate bids, and refining the engineering of the designs, with details broken down by each pod and by each contractor category.

“Masonry detail: the work that we’ll be doing is to improve, and restore, and beautify. Can we do all three? Well, let’s figure out what the limits are,” he said.

Board President Tina Stoll asked if the latest design included “energy-efficient utilities” and environmentally-friendly suggestions made by the high school’s student environmental action club; Lynch said, “the short answer is yes, it will be included: we have not gone to that level of detail…but that is on our to-do list.”

The school board voted unanimously to authorize staff to prepare a schematic design for possible action on June 20.

The school board next meets at 7 p.m. that night, and the board’s facilities and operations committee next meets at 7 p.m. on June 24; for more information visit www.NPenn.org.

This article appears courtesy of a content share agreement between North Penn Now and The Reporter. To read more stories like this, visit www.thereporteronline.com.

author

Dan Sokil | The Reporter

Dan Sokil has been a staff writer for The Reporter since 2008, covering Lansdale and North Wales boroughs; Hatfield, Montgomery, Towamencin and Upper Gwynedd Townships; and North Penn School District.


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