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$25 million in upgrades underway at Highlands schools | #schoolsaftey

With the start of school just over a month away, Highlands is readying its buildings with safety upgrades such as lighting and new sidewalks in time for the first class bell.

Projects are underway at all four campuses as well as the community center.

The cost is about $25 million.

Nearly $2 million is pegged to replace the high school pool, which has been closed since 2021.

Other projects include operational features such as boilers, roof replacement, air conditioning and parking.

“It is very exciting to see all the upgrades and improvements being done around the district,” board member Kristie Babinsack said. “We wanted to allow the contractors to complete as much work as possible during the summer months while the weather was cooperative and when the students and staff are not in the building.”

Chris Reiser, director of buildings and grounds, said work will impact all buildings.

At the elementary school along Ninth Avenue in Tarentum, several concrete projects will repair crumbling steps and walkways.

Steps to the main entrance will be redone, along with retaining walls. Similar work will be done on the Ross Street side of the school.

“On the Lock Street side, they are removing the planters and concrete retaining walls, regrading and planting grass,” Reiser said.

At the middle school, crews are installing a new boiler system for heating and air handlers for the gym with air conditioning.

At the early childhood center, there will be a new air-conditioning system for all classrooms and a new boiler system for heating.

Reiser said extensive work is
planned for the high school, including new curbs, sidewalks and ramps around the front of the building, along with parking lot paving.

A new boiler system for heating will be installed, and that includes a pool heating system.

Replacement of the pool was a popular topic among residents, many of whom lobbied for the work.

The district closed the pool in 2021 because it was leaking about 300 gallons of water an hour, equivalent to about 7,200 gallons a day.

Reiser said work is underway and could be completed as early as September.

But the pool won’t be ready for swimmers at that point.

“They are replacing the humidity control system later in the school year, so it will not be open until then,” he said.

Other work at the high school includes radiant heating panels around the cafeteria, audion and auditorium hallways.

“Old electric heaters were removed and are being replaced with hot water heat,” Reiser said.

Babinsack said many of the projects are long overdue.

“They are needed repairs for safety and security purposes,” she said. “For example, cracked sidewalks, crumbling steps, repaving parking lots and LED lighting for brighter lights at night.”

Completion of work this summer is contingent on weather and supply chain issues.

Superintendent Monique Mawhinney said there is about $2 million in federal grant money available to help offset the cost of ongoing work.

“We are very happy to finally be in a good financial place where we can make these projects a priority and bring our district to a much more safe and secure learning environment for our children and staff,” Babinsack said.

Board member Nicole Kocon said district leadership has been thoughtful in prioritizing work to improve safety.

“Some of those projects have been on the radar for quite some time, and others have been brought to our attention by parents and district stakeholders and residents,” she said. “I am thankful to have so many people engaged and looking out for the well-being of their neighbors and neighborhood.”

An example of this is a new entrance and sidewalk at the community center along California Avenue. The facility is used during athletic events, neighborhood activities and meetings.

“These projects will not only address basic safety but will also enhance and improve aesthetics of the district facilities with the bonus of an increase in market value,” Kocon said.

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya by email at tpanizzi@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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