- Edison Elementary School, 1921 East Lake Road, last underwent a major renovation in 1952
- Instead of renovating the building as part of a district-wide initiative, the Erie school district is considering whether to build a new school
- New building could go south of existing building to avoid relocation costs, inconvenience, district says
The Erie School District’s $ 80.8 million renovation project has benefited all 16 school buildings in the district, with upgrades including security vestibules, updated ventilation systems, new windows, improved gymnasiums, new roofs and new parking lots.
All that was needed was the construction of a new school.
It might be the next one.
Erie Schools Administration Superintendent Brian Polito is considering building a new Edison Elementary School to replace the 90-year-old building at 1921 East Lake Road, between Bacon Street and Marne Road.
The school district’s massive capital improvement plan has consistently targeted Edison for major renovations, which would give the 435-student school, built in 1931, its first major renovation since 1952.
But the district is now considering asking the school board to approve the construction of a new school instead.
District officials said building a new school might make more sense because of Edison’s age; the cost of renovations; and the difficulty of moving Edison’s students to another school while their building is destroyed and rebuilt.
Either way, Edison is expected to undergo some major changes in the near future, whether through an overhaul of the existing building or the construction of a new school, perhaps on a large strip of land that the school district owns. just south of Edison.
The installation of the new school would allow students to stay in the existing building while a new building is being constructed, said Neal Brokman, who oversees the Erie School District construction projects as executive director of operations.
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Brokman and Polito said district architects will discuss options for Edison at a meeting of the Erie School Board of the Whole Committee on September 1.
Brokman explained the possibility of a new building to the school board at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Aug. 11, and then said the district was ready to pull the numbers together to compare renovations to construction costs.
Brokman said the estimated cost of a new school would depend on many factors, including the size of the new building to replace the existing Edison, which measures 57,666 square feet over two levels.
“We need to do a feasibility study,” Brokman said in an interview.
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More options with pandemic assistance
Polito told the school board on Aug. 11 that construction rather than renovation is a realistic option given the architects’ preliminary examination of the existing building. If built, a new Edison School would be the first school built by the Erie School District since East High School, now East Middle School, which opened in 1998.
“This building has a lot of problems,” Polito told the board of directors of Edison. Referring to the construction of a new school, he said: “They think it will only cost us a few million more to do it, and we have the funds to make it happen.”
The district has the money in large part thanks to the nearly $ 100 million in federal assistance it has received to fight the pandemic.
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The district, which has more than 10,000 students, received $ 6.8 million under the first COVID-19 relief law, the coronavirus aid, relief and economic security law; $ 30 million in the second round of relief legislation; and $ 60.7 million in the third.
The money came from the Federal Emergency Fund for Elementary and Secondary Schools, with allocations known as ESSER I, II and III. In total, the Erie School District received $ 97.5 million.
The district is to use the money for pandemic-related expenses, such as improving ventilation systems, but the restrictions have worked in the district’s favor.
When the school board adopted the $ 80.8 million construction plan in 2018, one of the major expenses was new ventilation systems. With the receipt of pandemic assistance, the district was able to allocate much of the federal money to new ventilation systems, freeing up more of the $ 80.8 million for other projects, like a new Edison school.
The federal pandemic fund, Brokman said, “allows us to do more.”
He said the district spent about $ 35 million of the $ 80.8 million.
The Erie School District is funding the $ 80.8 million project with a bond issue of about $ 50 million and about $ 30 million in cash. The district has liquidity mainly due to the receipt, from 2018, of an additional $ 14 million in annual state aid to remain solvent. The district must follow its state-mandated financial improvement plan in return for receiving the additional funds.
Complete overhaul of Erie High
The $ 80.8 million package represents the first phase of Ere’s school district plan to make its aging buildings, in Polito’s words, “hot, safe and dry.”
Receiving the ESSER money allows the district to include projects in the first phase that it would not otherwise have been able to afford, and allows the district to accelerate the projects that were planned for the second phase, said Brokman.
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Topping the list of fast-track projects is the complete renovation of Erie High School, including its gymnasium and basketball court.
The renovation of the north wing of the school is already underway and was part of the first phase of the neighborhood construction plan. Instead of waiting to renovate the south wing during the second phase, the school district wants to undertake this work from the spring of 2022 until 2024. This wing includes the gymnasium.
The estimated cost of redesigning the rest of the building is $ 32.4 million, according to the district. The district would award the bids in early 2022, Brokman said. He said the students would stay at Erie High during the construction.
The Erie school district would use its funds for the Erie High project, with more money available due to the use of ESSER funds for ventilation work that the district had planned to pay on its own.
Using ESSER funds, the Erie School District is also preparing to completely overhaul the heating and ventilation systems at Wilson Middle School and Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy. Work at Wilson will cost about $ 7.3 million, and work at Collegiate about $ 10.6 million, according to district records.
The district intends to award bids for Wilson and Collegiate later this year, with work continuing through 2023, according to preliminary plans. The pupils would remain in the schools during the works.
More details on the scope and costs of the Wilson, Collegiate and Erie High projects will come when the architects meet with the school board on September 1, Brokman said.
As it reviews projects and decides how to spend pandemic aid and other funds, the Erie School District uses its construction plan and strategic plan for improving educational outcomes as guides, which the school board also approved in 2018. Putting those plans in place before the influx of pandemic aid was a big help, Polito said.
“We are fortunate to have both the strategic and the financial plans,” he said.