Renovation reconfigures middle school; students barely affected

September 11, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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Mars Superintendent Wes Shipley helps prepare the new broadcast media room included in the middle school renovation. The room includes 4 windows that allow green-screen technology.

ADAMS TWP — A $15.3 million renovation and upgrade project at Mars Area Middle School will provide students and staff with a modern, state-of-the-art learning environment that has been reconfigured for efficiency.

While seventh- and eighth-graders started their school year on Monday with construction still under way, crews complete their tasks from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and clean up each night, so students are not affected by the work.

John Hays, the project construction manager from Thomas and Williamson, said demolition of areas such as the sunken commons and multilevel, large-group instruction room as well as removal and replacement of most of the school's ceiling material was completed over the summer.

Crews next focused on heating, ventilation and air conditioning, plumbing, wiring and the school's new kitchen, so that classes could start on time, Hays said.

He said 25 classrooms are operational, with six “swing” classrooms accommodating the classes whose rooms are being renovated.

Superintendent Wes Shipley said administrators will try to limit moves to the swing rooms to one or two to provide the least disruption in learning.

Classrooms received new flooring, ceilings, lights, cupboards, paint, wiring and a large touch-screen presentation station.

Principal Todd Kolson said the seventh-grade rooms are complete and the eighth-grade wing will be completed by the end of December. Teachers will use the swing rooms as the eighth-grade rooms are completed.

The school's hallways and doorways into classrooms were reconfigured to increase the efficiency of the space available and to more clearly separate the seventh- and eighth-grade wings, Kolson said.

“We're redefining the space, so there is a clear separation between seventh- and eighth-grade teams, and the library and collaboration station are in the middle (of the school) with the art department,” Kolson said. “Students are not running all over the building.”

Several new rooms that will accommodate higher-tech classes are off the upgraded library, including a broadcast media room in which four large grass-colored windows can provide green-screen technology. The cluster of rooms all surround the library and students can easily access them because they are in one area.

“Before, broadcast media was in an old office space,” Kolson said. “This renovation gives us the opportunity to wrap the project around some of our curriculum areas and expand them.”

All of the school's tiny lockers have been replaced, the new kitchen where students will get their lunch is closer to the now-level commons area, and the nurse/guidance wing has been moved to the front of the building adjacent to the principal's office.

The family and consumer science space has been moved and greatly expanded. Kolson said the old space languished in the same confined area where it was placed when the school was built in 1971.

A clean room was added to the technical education department, and the robotics room is just on the other side of the door, so the two classes can collaborate and share materials, Kolson said.

The art department on the south end of the school has been modernized by the creation of large, multimedia art rooms, rather than separate classrooms.

A “maker space” was also added to the school that will be used by teachers engaging in complex projects with their students that require a large, open area.

Only the gymnasium and LGI room were unavailable when students began attending classes in the district on Monday, but those spaces are expected to be available soon.

“Students will notice the building has an industrial — but clean — feel,” Kolson said.

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Paula Grubbs

Paula Grubbs

Paula Grubbs is a Butler County native who has been with the Butler and Cranberry Eagle newspapers since June 2000. Grubbs has covered the Mars School District and Middlesex Township for over 20 years with the Eagle and her former employer, the Cranberry Journal. She also covers Adams Township, Evans City and Mars in addition to events and incidents throughout Southwestern Butler County as assigned. Grubbs has taken the lead at the Cranberry Eagle in reporting on shale gas development, which has been a hotly debated topic in the recent past, both locally and nationally. A 1979 graduate of Butler Senior High School and a 1994 graduate of Geneva College, Grubbs has won a Golden Quill and four Keystone state awards, plus an award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Grubbs enjoys following the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers, volunteers with the Connoquenessing Creek Cleanup each summer, and loves spending time outdoors and bird watching at her Penn Township home. Grubbs is the daughter of James R. Davis Sr., of Center Township, and the late Maxine Davis. She has two grown children, Jacqueline and Thomas.