Architect: Central HS in poor condition

ROARING SPRING – An architectural planner painted a grim portrait of Central High School in a presentation to Spring Cove board members Tuesday, saying the 53-year-old school needs “comprehensive renovations” or wholesale replacement as part of a broad district restructuring.

The presentation, the culmination of a board-commissioned feasibility study by Architectural Innovations of Pittsburgh, detailed administrators’ options – almost all of which would cost tens of millions of dollars – for the district’s aging facilities over the next several years.

For a district forced to furlough teachers this year while facing ballooning state pension expenses, the prospect of a massive grade realignment isn’t necessarily a welcome one. But, as Planning Specialist Mark Follen explained Tuesday, the costs of doing nothing could be vastly higher.

“There have been concerns of possible failure in the next year, two years, three years,” Follen said of Central High School, which contains a possibly asbestos-lined structure and fails to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Administrators have cited failing boilers and energy-inefficient windows, as well.

In a presentation that drew fewer than 10 community members but held long-term implications for the district, Follen said years of piecemeal fixes at Central could cost the district $80 million.

A list of alternatives included some radical departures from the current system: Administrators could sell or demolish Central, replacing it with a brand-new high school and adding minor repairs at other buildings, for $70 million. State aid, if acquired, would shave several million from that figure, he said.

Several proposals involved giving up Central and the Spring Cove Middle School, also in need of widespread repairs. Older students could be shifted to a grades seven-through-12 combined high school, with the current Martinsburg Elementary converted to a district-wide middle school.

The prospect of district realignment had raised parents’ concerns in recent years, and at the Tuesday meeting, board member Amy Acker-Knisely questioned the feasibility of eliminating local elementaries.

“You’re taking kids from Blue Knob, from Puzzletown … that’s a long trip to Martinsburg. And that’s always been a concern,” she said.

Superintendent Robert Vadella said no option has been selected and no time frame established, but he noted that changes should be made before failing infrastructure costs taxpayers even more.

Follen made clear that fewer campuses mean less spending in the long run, especially if new buildings can operate more efficiently than their predecessors. Today, most Spring Cove buildings contain unused classrooms and awkward layouts, Follen said; a new high school, for example, could use almost all its space for education.

When Follen asked for final questions, however, board member Charlene Dodson raised a common one.

“Where does the money come from?” she asked.

Follen said administrators could weigh bond issues and long-term cash-saving opportunities, but in the short run, the tens of millions needed for new buildings could be hard to come by, board members said.

“I sit here and listen to it and all this sounds wonderful. But … it just seems pretty out there. I see what our current debt load is,” Dodson said. “You’re looking at a significant amount of debt.”

Vadella’s questions to Follen pointed to the possibility of gradual building replacements, starting with the most pressing issues at Central. While board members didn’t focus on a single option, the hope of cutting a district campus – and perhaps selling Central to recoup some costs – was a recurring topic of discussion.

“We’d like to think about what we might need to do before we have any system failures,” Vadella said.