Forest Hills junior-senior high school construction update

Work continues on the $48 million Forest Hills junior-senior high school construction project in Sidman, Wednesday, June 8, 2016. The general contractor is Leonard S. Fiore Inc., of Altoona.

SIDMAN – Forest Hills School District’s approximately $48 million junior-senior high school was very much an active work zone this past week.

As Superintendent Edwin Bowser led a group of four faculty members through a quick tour of the district’s next educational hub, work crews were finishing brick work inside, cutting materials and taking care of a list of other tasks needed to get the campus ready for students by the target of January.

Before long, Forest Hills’ seventh- through 12th-graders will be walking into a learning environment that is far different than the sites the district has relied on for generations, he said.

Walls will be lined with interactive video screens – including a four-screen, programmable system near a casual student commons space.

A massive new auditorium will welcome crowds with a stage big enough to simultaneously fit both the high school chorus and band.

And students will be able to learn in modern classrooms or high-tech “break-out” spaces throughout the school – and dine in an enclosed outdoor courtyard.

“The nice thing about having a brand new building – while still being able to use our old one – is that we were able to take our time,” Bowser said.

The district relied on 21/2 years of feasibility studies, numerous school tours in eastern Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, and the work of a 12-member architectural team to fine-tune a building that he said “will be truly unique in this area.”

Bowser and a small group of district employees had to don hard hats for their tour, walking past crews working both on the ground and on electric lifts. 

This fall, dry-walled rooms will be finished and furnished for tech education; science, technology, engineering and math labs and classroom spaces.

A 3-D art room equipped with Apple computers and a stadium-style, 180-capacity presentation space will also be included – the latter meant to serve as a school and community “epicenter” for special events, Bowser said.

‘Flexible and functional’

Technology will be overhead, too, he said. The new building will include a 96-camera security system that administrators will be able to access through wall-mounted displays or their cellphones.

All faculty and staff will need to use a key card and swipe system to access the school – and even their classroom doors, Bowser said.

“But if an emergency occurs, they’ll also be able to use the same card to lock any door,” he said.

The district has been working for years on the project, which at one point was

delayed a year after an initial round of bids came in well above expectations.

Forest Hills will move its middle- and high-schoolers into one complex that, aside from areas such as the auditorium and cafeteria, will be “distinctly separated” by designated wings, Bowser said.

The areas will also be color-coded: middle school space trimmed in yellow and high school space in green.

“The great thing is that everyone – whether it was the board, our teachers or our maintenance staff – really had a chance to have a say in what this building will become,” he said, adding that the district took innovative ideas that worked in other districts and incorporated them for Forest Hills.

“We’re proud of what we’re going to have,” Bowser said.

“And it’s going to be a working, flexible and functional building for a long time.”

‘Potential is limitless’

The district’s seventh- through 12th-grade band and music director, Mitch Custer, said his students are eager for the move.

“The facility and the new space we’re moving into is going to be fantastic,” he said, adding that band, chorus and theater students will be leaving behind a smaller, more restrictive auditorium for one “offering space we’ve never seen before.”

“I feel like the potential is limitless,” Custer said.

Bowser said the school project is expected to be complete by late November.

Students will finish the first half of the 2016-17 school year in their current locations. When they break for Christmas on Dec. 20, the district will work to transition staff to the new area, moving any furniture that is making the trip, Bowser said.

The new building is expected to be awaiting students when they return to school Jan. 9.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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