NA begins analyzing high school structural needs

A vastly different high school experience may await NA students in the future.


photo by Kat Klinefelter

The district has begun to explore the potential advantages and disadvantages of a combined 9-12 high school campus.

Andrew McLaughlin, Staff Writer

A decade from now, North Allegheny high school students could be combined into a single building, a combined campus, or the two schools may remain separated. 

All these options are being examined as North Allegheny district officials begin to assess the structural condition of both the Intermediate (NAI) and Senior (NASH) High Schools. The district’s High School Assessment and Feasibility Study is just the first step of a process that could eventually result in the construction of a new high school.

The goal is to evaluate the district’s aging facilities so that they would “better complement the educational requirements and curriculum of the future,” said Mark Trichtinger, Director of Operations at North Allegheny.

 At the November 18, 2020 school board meeting, the district presented its 2021-2022 Capital Funding Plan, which included a long-term assessment of high school infrastructure.

“NAI continues to have structural issues that are resulting in floors showing significant cracks, doors not opening and closing properly, and other significant issues that must be addressed,” the plan says.

NAI was built in 1954, with major renovations in 1997. In 2017, work was carried out to “refinish terrazzo floors and overhaul hallways due to cracking from underground expansive shale as well as roofing repairs,” said William Kirk, District Project Manager.

At NASH, Trichtinger stated that current areas in need of attention include the pool and the lack of natural light throughout the building.

“NASH has less immediate structural needs, but many areas… are in need of repair or replacement,” the Capital Funding Plan states.

The plan also states that “a major renovation at either building will cost in excess of $30 million at each school.”  According to Kirk, the 2017 NAI refurbishments were completed at a cost of $5,729,556.

A new school is another option that will be examined in the study, though ground-up construction comes at a much higher cost. For example, Peters Township High School–designed by the same firm carrying out the Feasibility Study for NA–opened in 2021 at a cost of $83 million.

A major renovation at either building will cost in excess of $30 million.

— North Allegheny 2021-2022 Capital Funding Plan

Weber Murphy Fox, an architecture firm with offices in Cleveland and Erie, was selected by the district to develop a master plan at a cost of $78,300. The Assessment and Feasibility Study, designed to take into account the opinions of current high school students, is the preliminary step of the master plan. In an email to the student body, NASH principal Natasha Dirda outlined the first steps of the Feasibility Study.

“The District has established a Steering Committee to work with the Weber Murphy Fox team of professionals and provide direction for reactions to the Assessment and Feasibility Study,” Dirda said. 

Though it is assessing the needs of today’s high school students, tangible results of the study will not happen for several years. The design process, which is expected to take 18 months, could begin in the spring of next year, pending school board approval. Construction would then take three to five years.

The assessment process will examine multiple options for the future of the district’s high schools.

“A combined high school is one of many different possibilities that will be considered,” said Trichtinger.

The disconnect between the NAI and NASH campuses has long complicated the transportation of students. If the two schools were consolidated–whether that be through construction of a single, combined school or an integrated, multi-building campus–these difficulties would be eliminated.

“Long-term operational cost savings would be the greatest benefit [of a combined high school],” Kirk added.

NAI is particularly in need of attention. The Capital Funding Plan states that the renovations completed in 2017 addressed “some issues, but a “Phase 2” was contemplated as part of that project, and the needs and scope of any Phase 2 have increased since the last renovations.”

At NAI, the biggest issues are “the roof, which is beginning to show its age; settlement problems that are causing cracks; and the lighting system, which needs to be brought up to current standards,” Trichtinger told The Uproar.

Joseph Wall,  Vice-Chair of the McCandless/Northern Allegheny Heritage Center, expressed his opinion of NAI’s nearly 70-year-old design and the possibility of building a new school at the Cumberland Road site. By comparison, NASH is more difficult to access from Perry Highway.

“[NAI] was constructed with courtyards around every classroom, which is inefficient for long term high energy usage…. Should a new school be constructed on Cumberland Road, there are currently four ingress and egress points, with two more possible.”

Already looking ahead, Dick Fox, architect at Weber Murphy Fox, said that the long-term assessment process will continue into next year.

“We’re going to come back and get more detailed information [from students] as the district gets a picture of what they want going forward,” said Fox.