Contractors are moving into the Portage Elementary School to start work on an $8 million renovation that will replace windows, entrances, plumbing, mechanicals and electrical services.

The project, set for completion by this time next year, is the final and largest phase of a series of projects that previously centered on the district’s high school and the athletic stadium, Superintendent Richard Bernazzoli said.

“We started with the (state) nonreimbursable items at the high school and we’re now ready to move into the reimbursable work,” he said.

Meanwhile, modular units are being moved onto district property and will be made ready for students this week.

The district is paying $105,000 for the 10 modular classrooms for use during the next 11 months.

Plans are to use the modulars for pupils in third and fourth-grade all year and move those in fifth and sixth grades in and out as contractors move throughout the school.

Hopes are the pre-kindergarten to second grade pupils can remain in the elementary school throughout the year. They would be relocated to the completed section during the Christmas holiday break, Bernazzoli said.

“We’re trying to give up about one half the instructional area at a time and we won’t move the primary out,” he said.

Construction crews working on the school while classes are held adds an element of complexity that can increase the overall cost of the work, said architect Blaise Michaels of CDI Engineering Solutions, formerly L. Robert Kimball and Associates of Ebensburg.

“Essentially the building can’t be emptied, and to keep the rest of the building in service, it’s difficult,” Michaels said.

Despite the complexity of the project, bids from the general contractor and four additional contractors came in “at about where they should have been,” he said.

The focus of the work will be on replacing and upgrading the innerworkings of the building, Michaels said.

“There won’t be a lot visible,” he said.

About 50 percent of the cost of the elementary renovation will be reimbursed by the state with the remainder of the money paid from local taxpayer funds, Bernazzoli said.

A 2-mill tax hike levied four years ago in preparation for the work should allow the school board to avoid any further hikes, officials said.

Helping the financial picture is the recent payoff of a bond issue floated many years ago to pay for construction of the school and other improvements.

“We have not increased our debt service,” Bernazzoli said.

The elementary work comes as the district plans to open a fitness center built at the rear of the high school.

Last school year new bleachers were put in the gymnasium, seating in the high school auditorium was replaced and air conditioning installed.

A new press box was built at Mustang stadium and the sound system and concession stand upgraded, Bernazzoli said.

The old press box was refurbished and will now be used for scouts from other areas attending events and seating when the new press box hits overflow, he said.

The $3.2 million in already completed improvements were paid for by the district’s capital reserve fund.


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