A shuttered auditorium at aging Greater Johnstown Middle School is about to undergo a major makeover.
It’s all part of an $8 million upgrade with two low-interest bonds aimed at turning the 91-year-old school into an engineering and information technology academy.
The school board will meet March 3 to vote on what option to pursue and how to move forward with the project.
A total of $9.6 million in loans – the district plans to use the remaining $1.6 million for improvements at other schools – already have been approved by two agencies and the board.
“It’s just a creative way to take advantage of virtual no-interest loans to make some very good upgrades in the school,” Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak said. “We are happy about that.”
There are three options on the table.
• The first involves the auditorium, which has been closed for the past five years. It would be turned into multipurpose room and would include a band room, an instrumental lesson room and a chorus room, as well as a stage for multipurpose entertainment.
There also would be separate classrooms, but the balcony would be eliminated, reducing the auditorium from two stories to one.
On the opposite side of the building, where the alternative students are presently located, there would be a two-story suite of engineering and science rooms and laboratories, including the makers space.
The engineering and science rooms and labs would deal with programming, coding and basic engineering for middle school students. There also would be a robotic arena that could be used regionally. The MakerSpace would afford lots of opportunities for the community and provide equipment such as 3D printers, computers, band saws and lathes.
There also would be hundreds of online courses offered by the National Education Foundation, which is funding 10 percent of the $6 million loan by providing software and support.
“(The MakerSpace) is a place where people with a good idea could come and work and make things they might not be able to afford otherwise,” Zahorchak said. “It would give people a place to incubate their business and perhaps turn it into a business.”
The alternative school would be moved to the back of the building, where it would be part of the overall STEAM Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) involved in Option 1.
Lastly, this phase would include a new solar panel and wind energy roof for use in educational purposes as well as sewage upgrades.
• A second option would be for the board to approve the STEAM Academy inside the auditorium and leave everything else as is.
• Third, the board could choose to mix or match some of the previous ideas.
Because of the district’s economic distress, Johnstown received a 25-year, no-interest loan from Qualified Zone Academy Bonds and $3.6 million state loan as the result of Act 39.
It carries a 2.8 percent interest rate, which Zahorchak said the district plans to pay back with its energy savings during a 10-year period.
“The big deal is we have a community always invested in education and now here is a great example of what we are investing in for 21st century education,” Zahorchak said. “I think the people of the West End will be very proud of our investment.”