One-eyed robot lends a hand

Construction on the $163.5 million project won't get started until next summer.
YOUNGSTOWN -- It looks like something out of a bad science fiction movie.
A one-foot metal cube perches five feet off the ground atop a tripod.
On top of the cube, a mirror about the size of a credit card furiously spins, shooting a laser invisible to the naked eye.
Give it a couple metal arms and put it on wheels, and voila! -- it's a 1950s movie version of a crazed, one-eyed robot.
But this isn't the 1950s, and this certainly isn't science fiction.
It's a geometric laser scanner, and the city school district is using it to get precise architectural measurements of its school buildings.
Crucial: The measurements, known in architect circles as "existing condition documentation," are one of the most crucial pre-design steps in the city schools' $163.5 million school renovations project.
Project construction, which includes building four new schools and making extensive renovations or additions to a dozen others, won't begin for another year, but architects are spending this summer examining the buildings and drawing up preliminary blueprints for the work.
The school board is paying Quantapoint of Pittsburgh $153,100 to use laser scanners to measure every nook and cranny of eight buildings so accurate renovation plans can be drawn.
The lineup: The eight buildings being scanned are North, Kirkmere, Bunn, Haddow and Sheridan elementaries, Volney Junior High, Chaney High School and Choffin Career & amp; Technical Center.
Normally, a team of as many as 10 architects would take several weeks to document one school building using tape measures and handheld cameras, said Harry Evans, the school district's chief of maintenance and operations.
Quantapoint can measure an entire school in about three days, said Eric Lightfoot, a field service specialist with the company. He said the company promises measurements accurate to a half-inch.
"It is an amazing process," Lightfoot said from the gym of North Elementary School Friday, after starting the scanning process of the East Side building.
The laser camera gives architects a detailed three-dimensional picture of every room in the building -- from the contours of the walls and sizes of the doors to the condition of door knobs and lighting.
Anthony DeNiro, executive director of school business affairs, said such scanning saves time and money and gives the district a set of detailed drawings of the buildings.
"It's quite encompassing," he added.
Timetable: Evans said architects should have preliminary drawings completed by early fall. Construction should begin next summer, starting with a new high school on the city's East Side, extensive renovations to Chaney High School and three new elementary schools. The project will take about six years to complete.
School district voters approved a 4.4-mill tax issue in November to raise $33.2 million for the project. The state will fund the remaining $130.2 million.

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