NEW CASTLE Board weighs junior-senior high school

The current junior high school will soon need renovations, architects said.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Adding seventh- and eighth-graders to the new New Castle High School could pay for itself, architects working on the project say.
School board members agreed Monday to look into the feasibility of combining grades seven through 12 in one building and eliminating Ben Franklin Junior High School.
School officials say they are looking at long-term savings by eliminating the upkeep of one building and sharing space such as the cafeteria, library, gymnasiums and auditorium with junior and senior high-school pupils.
The district now faces a $1 million deficit in its 2002-2003 budget.
State is receptive
Superintendent Joseph Martin said state school officials are receptive to the idea of a junior-senior high school. Martin and Eckles Architecture met with Pennsylvania Department of Education officials last week to talk about the changes.
Kay Thompson of Eckles estimates building new space for grades seven and eight will cost about $5.2 million, about the same amount the district will receive from the state in pupil reimbursements by adding the 620 junior high-schoolers to that building.
David Esposito, also of Eckles, said seventh and eighth grades would be mostly confined to 21 classrooms in a new second floor on the east end of the building. They would be separated from the older students by a foyer and the auditorium, he noted. The original design had only one floor in the east wing.
The new space, which includes a basement added under the cafeteria in the west wing, is about 40,000 square feet, he said.
Esposito added that the current junior high school was built in 1921 and will need upgrading soon anyway.
"We can do this for half the cost of renovating the old building," he said.
Esposito noted that new school concept is good, but the district may run into problems because it has already started construction on a new high school.
Work started earlier this month on the west wing of the building, which will house most of the classrooms for senior high students. The east wing is scheduled to be built in a second phase and will include art and music classrooms and the auditorium.
Esposito said it will be most cost effective if the state allows the district to add the new space through change orders. Soliciting new bids could be much more costly and harder to manage because two companies could be working simultaneously on the project, he said.
School officials awarded bids for the new senior high- school building last spring.
Esposito said that if the Pennsylvania Department of Education decides on the project changes by December, construction will not be delayed and should end by 2004.

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