School pride

After three years of work, Williamsport Area Middle School – formerly Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School – officially was dedicated at a ceremony Sunday afternoon.

More than 300 people, including members of the public, school, local and state officials, attended the dedication ceremony, and went on self- or student-guided tours of the school after the ribbon-cutting.

Principal Brandon Pardoe praised the work.

“The progress that’s been made is outstanding by the contractors, ensuring it’s open on time for students and the rededication,” Pardoe said.

Both the positioning and remodeling of the area middle school are key factors, he said. With its proximity to the high school, middle school students eventually may have the opportunity to engage in career and technology classes there, he said.

Former Superintendent Kathleen R. Kelley said a feasibility study was conducted years ago, and it was clear Roosevelt school needed a renovation. When the school district reconfigured grade structures, the project had an impetus.

The next question was one with dollar signs: Where would the money for the $36 million project come from? It qualified for nearly interest-free school construction loans, funding the entire project.

Work began in February 2011, and the school opened to about 840 seventh- and eighth-grade students Aug. 26 this year. About 350 sixth- through eighth-grade students had attended when it closed for construction, said Greg Hayes, public relations director of the Williamsport Area School District.

District architect Vern McKissick designed the enhanced structure. He said they took what was “widely regarded as a dark and depressing” building to a fresh, “green” school.

While the external structure remained, the inside was gutted and redone, with about 99,000 square feet of additional classroom and office space.

New features include a fitness center, library, SMARTboard technology, expanded science labs, an upgraded gymnasium and cafetorium, and more.

“Green” aspects range from the architecture and HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems. More than 13 miles of underground pipes were laid for a geothermal heating and cooling system, which is projected to generate about $13 million in savings. The roof is white rather than dark, retaining less heat and saving energy. A section of the roof is vegetative, also keeping things cool.

The colors are tied to the school’s original scheme of the 1940s era but with fresh oranges and blues in the halls, Pardoe said. Natural light floods in, enhancing the brighter atmosphere.

Seventh-grade students have classes on the first floor, while eighth-graders go to class on the second floor. They’ll soon have the capability to generate and broadcast school news in the school’s WAMS-TV studio.