by Jonathan Weaver
Mud, construction tire marks and large open spaces are common atop Buffington Drive in Manor Township these days as contractors work on the new Armstrong Junior-Senior High School.
Contractors have reached milestones on the new 7-12th grade school – located on a 68-acre parcel of land off of Buffington Drive originally donated from Sherry Family Trust – during the past year and classrooms and educational areas are taking form.
Reynolds Construction On-Site Manager Stephen Reckhart and Project Manager Roshelle Fennell were hired specifically for the school construction project in Spring 2013 as the construction group looks to set-up a Pittsburgh office. In addition to a media tour last week, they also have accommodated school staff, board directors and the River Hawks hockey and bowling teams.
Every Friday, Reckhart takes photos of his own near a newly-paved portion of Buffington Drive a mile back from the main intersection with Route 422 and has noted progress. He said the next giant step is to ensure no winter weather enters the building.
“Most of the building is under roof (but) we need to get it closed up before winter comes,” Reckhart said. “The last two sections we really need to get under-roof. They finish(ed) up the steel (Friday), so by early (this) week, there should be a roofing crew out here closing it in.”
Reckhart hopes masonry contractors from Cost Construction of Pittsburgh are completed within two months.
“We hope to have those guys out by the end of October when we’re hopefully just be doing finish work, painting, flooring and ceilings,” Reckhart said.
The main hallway – which faculty and students will be able to see as they drive into the site – will split classrooms from cafeteria and technical areas.
Even though kitchen space will be shared by junior-high and senior-high cafeteria staff, students from each grade division will eat in their own cafeteria.
Progress is about equal in both the two-story junior high and three-story senior high wings, with large cut-out areas for windows to admire the view.
“Essentially, we have the shell up, we’re getting some systems put in – there’s some still masonry work left to finalize the doors but some of that in other areas has already been done,” Reckhart said. “(The junior high wing) has a lot of windows in.
“When you get to the upper level, there are some really nice vistas out over the river. A lot of daylight.”
School Superintendent Stan Chapp is at the site regularly and also took a few shots of the clear Western Pennsylvania landscape.
“It is very exciting to see the building at this stage of construction and know that it will be ready in just about another year,” Chapp said. “The contractors have been meticulous in their work and are proud of being a part of this project as many wear the River Hawks logo on their protective helmets.”
The largest open space in the school will be the 1,200-seat main gymnasium (which will include two full-size basketball courts) – which is currently used as a storage area for contracting supplies. The 35 feet tall and 105 feet wide space was the first roof-section completed in March/April, Reckhart and Fennell said.
That size of a gymnasium is comparable to those at Plum Senior High in Pittsburgh and at Norwin Senior High in North Huntingdon – both schools that have Quad-A division athletics.
Reckhart said the nearly-dozen contracting groups on-site have worked as a team.
“Just like as a family, there will be conflicts, but they all get along,” Reckhart said.
He said they have also gotten along well with neighboring property owners.
“One homeowner was concerned with dust when we were in the very-beginning phases, but we just had to send out a truck and water it down,” Reckhart said. “The homeowner at the intersection, fantastic guy – he’s very understanding. We try to take care of them.”
Other school construction projects Reckhart worked on during the last 15 years of his career include in Hempfield, Freeport and Burgettstown school districts.
School board directors are planning to have a day later this fall when public residents will be able to view the building as the exterior is finished and some of the large equipment goes off-site. The concept has been advocated by School Director Chris Choncek.
“A lot of times we just sort-of get lulled to complacency because we assume everything’s going forward, but I think it’s time to really generate some excitement behind this,” Choncek said.
Choncek has walked through the area himself and will have three children that will walk the halls of Armstrong Junior-Senior High: son, Brandon will spend his senior year in the new school, while son, Tyler will be a sophomore when the school opens and daughter, Anna will be the first in the family to attend the junior-high portion in three years.
“I think it’s just such an ideal location – it’s a good physical location and also representative of bridging two communities in Ford City and Kittanning,” Choncek said. “(Contractors) seem to be on-schedule.
“Everything is scheduled to open up in Fall `15, and I couldn’t be happier with the facilities.”