The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 26, 2013

Forest Hills board mulls school plans

Justin Dennis

SIDMAN — The Forest Hills school board looked to adopt preliminary figures Tuesday for a proposed consolidation of the middle school into an upgraded high school.

The Forest Hills Middle High School project, planned by Eckles Group of New Castle, would add 199,000 square feet of new construction around the high school’s fieldhouse.

The hours-long presentation by the engineering firm contained, among other things, detailed layouts of construction scenarios that could become part of the new school, including space for an auxiliary gymnasium that – when combined with the main gym – could hold around 1,500 occupants, an outdoor courtyard that could double as a lunch area or an outdoor science classroom, roughly 120 new parking spots and state-of-the-art “mouse trap” security measures to keep students safe.

The proposed total cost of the project is just under $49 million. The district will be entitled to around $9 million in state reimbursement for the project over the next 30 years – that’s about 15 percent of the total cost. Forest Hills officials said that the current middle school property, about six miles away, will be sold and all other parts of the high school aside from the fieldhouse will be demolished.

“I think it’s a good start,” said Superintendent Edwin Bowser. “It’s preliminary, but I think it’s a great rendering. It captures a lot of what we’re about as a district.”

With new construction comes new options for how to utilize the bigger space. The proposed gymnasium was estimated by board members as being roughly the size of the Richland High School gym, which creates opportunities to hold graduation or a district-wide assembly.

“It does give you a lot of flexibility and options,” said Curt Vasas, principal of Forest Hills High School.

“It’s ideal, athletically,” said Joe Gironda, athletic director, noting that hosting District 6 games or tournaments could be in the district’s future.

Student safety was also featured prominently in the group’s presentation, which was delivered by Cassie Renninger, project manager for the firm. Faculty and staff will hold magnetic cards to pass through sealed doors at each building entrance. When combined with a front entrance door buzzer, it creates a “mouse trap” that prohibits entrance from anyone who isn’t supposed to be there.

“If somebody is allowed through or follows someone in, they can’t get past (the card-locked doors) without some credential,” said Renninger.

Contractor bidding will open Oct. 13, according to the Eckles Group time line, with contracts awarded sometime in November. The firm hopes to break ground on Dec. 13, with construction wrapping up by July 2015.


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