First Posted: 8/27/2013
It was all polished up for the first day of school.
A $2-million renovation project at the Montgomery Avenue Elementary School is nearly complete. Added to the $750,000 in repairs made after the 2011 flood, and the Wyoming Area elementary school is good for decades to come, said Superintendent Ray Bernardi.
New roof, new boilers, new steps and a wheelchair ramp and new flooring and bathroom are key components.
Bernardi spent a morning last week reviewing the work that was done and he spoke like a proud parent. “It looks like a brand new school.”
The renovation plan was put on hold in 2011 when the school basement, which houses five classrooms, and the sub-basement, which houses the school’s basketball court/gym, were destroyed by floodwaters.
“We had several feet of water down here and the floor buckled,” Bernardi said. “It was completely ruined.”
Crews completely sealed off the basement as repairs were made because of a fear of mold. A negative air system, similar to a hospital operating room, was set up and the air was tested weekly. Air ducts between the floors were sealed, multiple HEPA air filters were placed throughout the basement, and all air was pumped to the outside.
Three kindergarten classes, art, gifted and Title 1 classes were displaced during the repairs.
The basements were gutted and new flooring and walls were built. The wooden gym floor was ripped out and a new rubber one was installed in “the pit,” as the gym is affectionately known. The $750,000 price tag was completely picked up by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and its federal counterpart, FEMA.
With the repairs made, the renovations plans returned to the front burner.
Mike Angerson, a local representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said a $2 million loan was made available through the department’s Community Facilities Program.
“We look for projects that area community related and open to the public,” he said.
The 40-year loan has a low 3.75 percent interest, Bernardi said.
“We were strapped as most school districts are, with regards to capital improvements,” Bernardi said. “But we found out this program was available and we jumped on it.”
Included were infrastructure improvements such as electrical and fiber-optic internet connection throughout the school, a new roof, new boilers, new fire alarm/emergency speaker system, new bathrooms and new front steps and a wheelchair ramp.
“It was a great deal,” he said. “We could pay it off tomorrow or we can pay it off in 40 years. If we come into some money, we can pay it off early. That’s a bonus.”
Antiquated gas/oil boilers, which have been around for decades, survived the flood, but they were replaced as part of the renovation project. The new energy-efficient models will be good for the next 50 years, Bernardi said.
The district even saved some cash.
Bernardi explained there was a proposed $20 million, districtwide renovation plan, which included $10 for an addition to the Secondary Center. A new school board took office and significantly downsized the scope and cost of the project, but a large set of stone tiles were already purchased. The tiles have been in storage since 2006, but were brought out and used to decorate the sides of the new steps.
The building was constructed in 1926 at a cost of $500,000. It currently educates about 400 students.
Bernardi, who is entering his final year as superintendent, said his job is easy.
“I always pretended like it was my money and they’re my kids,” he said. “So all my decisions are based on, if I were going to do a project, I wanted to get the best construction people at the best price. And if I was going to do something for my children, what would I do? How would I better provide education for my kids? That was my philosophy and that made the job easier for me.”
The roof project is set to begin soon and should only take about two weeks. He said a roof on the Sarah J. Dymond Elementary School is the final major project.
“After all the renovations are complete, we’re tightened down for years and years and years,” he said. “I want to leave the district in good shape when I retire. That’s my goal.”