- Fairview School District studied expanding high school for years until School Board approved plan in April
- Fairview Elementary School also getting addition as enrollment grows
- Also under construction: Prep-Villa addition, changes to Union City school sports complex, work at Erie, upgrades to schools inMillcreek school districts
A building boom is occurring at schools throughout Erie County, including the massive overhaul of a high school that had not undergone a major renovation since it was built in 1973.
That project is the $45.1 million upgrade to Fairview High School, which will get 40 new classrooms as part of a 90,000-square-foot expansion that is scheduled to take two years to complete.
Construction started in June, about the same time the 1,800-student Fairview School District started work on a companion project — the $4.7 million addition of nine classrooms, totaling 10,000 square feet, to Fairview Elementary School, just north of the high school and on the same campus that also is home to Fairview Middle School. That project is scheduled to be done in a year.
The Fairview schools will remain open during construction.
Other building and renovation projects underway in Erie County include those at the Millcreek School District, the Union City Area School District, the Erie School District and the private Cathedral Preparatory School, which is merging with Villa Maria Academy in the fall of 2022.
In a project not connected to a specific school system, the new Erie Center for Arts and Technology completed its $12 million renovation of the former Wayne School at East Sixth Street and East Avenue in Erie.
Revamped school, new programs:Old Wayne School renovated; new Erie Center for Arts and Technology ready for students
All the school projects are separate from building improvements, such as ventilation system improvements that the districts might undertake with federal stimulus money related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fairview School District
The Fairview School Board approved the renovations to the high school and elementary school in April, after years of study and months of discussion.
The project is designed to make sure the school can accommodate larger class sizes that are on track to arrive in several years, said John Feketi, who is helping to oversee the project as the Fairview School District’s director of facilities, maintenance and grounds.
And, Feketi said, the building was due a major facelift because, since 1973, “it has not had a renovation.”
Making a case:Fairview High School renovation plans shared with public
Echoing others in the school district administration, Feketi said Fairview students deserve the renovations. The Fairview School District is among the most affluent in the region, and its students routinely score well on standardized tests, according to state data.
“Our school is a fantastic school,” Feketi said of Fairview High School. “But the condition of the current building doesn’t really match how well our students are doing.”
The 2020-21 enrollment in the Fairview School District totaled 1,820, up from 1,643 in 2016-17, according to statistics the district provided in its official statement when it issued the bonds for the project. The district projects its total enrollment to be 2,009 by 2024-25.
The current capacity of Fairview High School is 852 students, the district said. The addition will expand the capacity to 1,026 students, according to the statement that accompanied the bond issue. The statement listed the high school’s enrollment at 552 students in 2020-21.
The high school project will include new heating and ventilation and air-conditioning systems; new windows; the addition of 41 classrooms on the north side of the building and the renovation of the remaining building.
The project also will include a new library and large-group instruction area, renovated art and music areas and a separate space and equipment for technical education. The library and high school offices and large-group instruction will move to the north side of the building.
In the next three to five years, the Fairview School district will consider whether to continue the renovations at the high school by demolishing part of the first- and second-floor classroom wing on the building’s south side, Feketi said. He said the district would have to secure more funding for that project.
The Fairview School District is paying for current high school and elementary school projects — the combined cost is $49.8 million —with bond proceeds, said David Niemira, the district’s business manager and chief financial officer.
The district said it has saved for the projects for years to limit the effect on taxpayers. Niemira said the district’s updated projections estimate an annual tax increase of 0.35% for each of the next 15 years to pay for the bond issue.
Union City Area School District
At the 1,020-student Union City Area School District, the expansion of the sports complex is the district’s big construction project. Three phases make up the project.
The first phase, scheduled to be done by football season, consists of the construction of a new concession and restroom facility. The district said it is paying for that phase with money left over from the recent renovation of the high school.
Construction has also started on the second phase of the project. It includes new dugouts for the baseball and softball fields, a press box atop the home softball dugout, partial fencing for those fields, a new softball backstop, new public announcement system for the softball field and removal of trees that had been encroaching on some athletic facilities, the school district said.
The Union City Sports Complex Committee, a community group, raised the $125,000 needed for the second phase improvements, the district said.
The project’s third phase is planned for the summer of 2022. It calls for the removal of the press box at the facility used for football and track and building a new press box atop the north-side bleachers for football, track and baseball. The project also calls for enclosing both football bleachers with steel siding and installing a new public address system for football, track and baseball, the district said.
The Union City Sports Complex Committee intends to raise the estimated $378,000 needed for the third phase. The nonprofit Union City Community House Association recently donated $40,000 to the project. The housing association works to provide affordable housing and makes community grants.
The superintendent of the Union City Area School District, Matt Bennett, praised the community’s efforts in paying for the improvements through donation rather than taxes, which Bennett, in a statement, said allows the district’ School Board members “to stay focused on those goals while continuing not to burden taxpayers in difficult times.”
“This dedicated group of individuals is helping transform our outdoor athletic facilities, which will be utilized and enjoyed by student-athletes and the community for decades to come,” Bennett said.
Cathedral Preparatory School
One of the most momentous years in the history of the all-boys Roman Catholic high school includes one of the school’s biggest building projects.
In preparation for its merger with the all-girls Villa Maria Academy in the fall of 2022, Prep-Villa is expanding Prep’s downtown campus with the construction of the $12.5 million, three-story Salata Technology and Innovation Center. Prep-Villa in April broke ground on the project, which is going up just south of Prep’s main building on West 10th Street, between Myrtle and Sassafras streets.
A court fight over whether Prep-Villa must build a tornado shelter as part of the new building could slow the project, though it is planned to be done in time for the merger.
The center is part of $14.5 million in improvements to the Prep campus. Prep-Villa is also converting the Prep pool into a dance studio and fitness center at a cost of $1.2 million and spending $800,000 to convert Prep’s existing library into a chapel.
Prep-Villa is paying for the projects with donations, including a $5 million gift from 1984 Prep graduate Jean Eric Salata.
Millcreek School District
The region’s second-largest school district, after the Erie School District, is continuing its building improvement plan for its 6,600 students.
The Millcreek School District is in its second year of a seven-year renovation plan for all its buildings, said the district’s director of finance and business operations, Aaron O’Toole. He said the plan focuses on updates to mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and roof upgrades “where this infrastructure is original to the buildings.”
The schools undergoing renovations in the summer of 2021 are Westlake Middle School and Belle Valley, Chestnut Hill elementary schools and the former Ridgefield Elementary School, with all the schools scheduled to open on time in 2021-22, O’Toole said. The total cost of the work is about $26.4 million, he said. The rest of the work at Westlake and Belle Valley will be done over the summer of 2022.
The school district closed Ridgefield Elementary School in 2013. The Sarah A. Reed Children’s Center leases space in the building.
The Millcreek School District issued $50 million in bonds to pay for the first three years of the building improvements. O’Toole said the district plans to issue another $60 million in bonds in the spring or summer of 2022 to pay for the final four years of the plan.
Erie School District
The Erie School District, with more than 10,000 students, is continuing Superintendent Brian Polito’s plan to make all the district’s buildings “warm, safe and dry.”
The plan, formulated in 2018, has already led to major infrastructure improvements at Erie High School and Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, including renovations to the portico and two gyms at Collegiate and upgrades to Erie Veterans Memorial Stadium, next to the school.
The latest upgrades, Polito said, include the restoration of Wilson Middle School, where a fire broke out in October; the replacement of the boiler at Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School; boiler upgrades districtwide; paving and sidewalk repairs at Strong Vincent Middle School; and the replacement of emergency generators at Pfeiffer-Burleigh and Grover Cleveland Elementary School.
“Although most of the work is occurring behind the walls, the renovations at Erie High include new windows, doors, and some updates to lighting, ceilings, flooring, and wall finishes,” Polito said. “Wilson includes new ceilings, lighting and wall finishes on the first floor. The students and staff will also notice improvements to climate control and air quality in the renovated areas.”
Another big improvement that Polito said the public will notice: upgrades to the entrance of Erie High, including a new visitor parking lot and drop-off area.
The cost of the Erie School District’s renovation project is $80.8 million, funded with about $30 million in cash and about $50 million from a bond issue.
The district was able to finance the project largely due to its receipt, starting in 2018, of $14 million in additional state aid to stay solvent.