- Edison Elementary School, 1921 East Lake Road, last underwent a major renovation in 1952
- Instead of overhauling building as part of districtwide initiative, Erie School District is reviewing whether to build new school
- New building could go south of existing building to avoid relocation costs, inconvience, district says
The Erie School District’s $80.8 million building renovation project has benefited all the district’s 16 school buildings, with improvements including security vestibules, updated ventilation systems, new windows, upgraded gymnasiums and new roofs and new parking lots.
All that has been missing is the construction of a new school.
That might be next.
The administration of Erie schools Superintendent Brian Polito is considering whether to build a new Edison Elementary School to replace the 90-year-old building at 1921 East Lake Road, between Bacon Street and Marne Road.
The school district’s massive plan for capital improvements has always targeted Edison for major renovations, which would give the 435-student school, built in 1931, its first significant revamp since 1952.
But the district is now considering asking the School Board to approve the construction of a new school instead.
District officials said building a new school might make more sense due to the age of Edison; the cost of renovations; and the difficulty of relocating Edison students to another school while their building is getting gutted and rebuilt.
Either way, Edison is set to undergo major changes in the near future, whether through an overhaul of the existing building or construction of a new school, possibly on a large swath of land the school district owns just south of Edison.
Putting the new school there would allow students to stay in the existing building during construction of a new building, said Neal Brokman, who oversees Erie School District building projects as its executive director of operations.
Brokman and Polito said the district’s architects will discuss options for Edison at an Erie School Board committee-of-the-whole meeting on Sept. 1.
Brokman explained the possibility of a new building to the School Board at a committee-of-the-whole meeting on Aug. 11, and he later said the district is ready to gather the figures to compare renovations with construction costs.
Brokman said the estimated cost of a new school would depend on many factors, including the size of the new building to replace the existing Edison, which is 57,666 square feet on two levels.
“We need to do a feasibility study,” Brokman said in an interview.
More options with pandemic aid
Polito told the School Board on Aug. 11 that construction rather than renovation is a realistic option given the architects’ preliminary review of the existing building. If built, a new Edison School would be the first school the Erie School District has built since East High School, now East Middle School, which opened in 1998.
“That building has a lot of issues,” Polito told the board about Edison. Referring to construction of a new school, he said, “They feel that is only going to cost us a couple million more to do that, and we do have the funds to accomplish that.”
The district has the money largely because of the nearly $100 million in federal aid it has received to address the pandemic.
The district, with more than 10,000 students, received $6.8 million in the first COVID-19 relief legislation, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act; $30 million in the second round of relief legislation; and $60.7 million in the third.
The money came through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, with the allocations known as ESSER I, II and III. All told, the Erie School District got $97.5 million.
The district must use the money on pandemic-related expenses, such as improved ventilation systems, but the restrictions have worked in the district’s favor.
When the School Board passed the $80.8 million building plan in 2018, one of the major expenses was new ventilation systems. With the receipt of the pandemic aid, the district has been able to earmark a large amount of the federal money for new ventilation systems, freeing up more of the $80.8 million for other projects, such as a new Edison School.
The federal pandemic funds, Brokman said, “allows us to do more.”
He said the district has spent approximately $35 million of the $80.8 million.
The Erie School District is financing the $80.8 million project with about $50 million bond issue and about $30 million in cash. The district has the cash mainly due to its receipt, starting in 2018, of $14 million in additional annual state aid to stay solvent. The district must follow its state-mandated financial improvement plan in exchange for receiving the additional funds.
Complete overhaul of Erie High
The $80.8 million package represents the first phase of the Ere School District’s plan to make its aging buildings, in Polito’s words, “warm, safe and dry.”
The receipt of the ESSER money is allowing the district to include projects in the first phase that it could not have afforded otherwise, and it is allowing the district to speed up projects that were scheduled for the second phase, Brokman said.
Leading the list of expedited projects is the complete renovation of Erie High School including its gymnasium and basketball court.
The renovation of the school’s north wing is already occurring and was part of the first phase of the district’s building plan. Instead of waiting to renovate the south wing in the second phase, the school district wants to undertake that work starting in the spring of 2022 and running through 2024. That wing includes the gym.
The estimated cost of the overhaul of the rest of the building is $32.4 million, according to the district. The district would award the bids in early 2022, Brokman said. He said students would remain at Erie High during the work.
The Erie School District would use its funds for the Erie High project, with more money available due to the use of ESSER funds for ventilation work that the district had planned to pay for on its own.
Using the ESSER funds, the Erie School District is also preparing to fully overhaul the heating and ventilation systems at Wilson Middle School and Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy. The work at Wilson will cost an estimated $7.3 million, and the work at Collegiate at estimated $10.6 million, according to district records.
The district intends to award bids for Wilson and Collegiate later this year, with the work to continue through 2023, according to preliminary plans. Students would remain at the schools during the work.
More details on the scope and costs of the Wilson, Collegiate and Erie High projects will come when the architects meet with School Board on Sept. 1, Brokman said.
As it reviews the projects and decides how to spend the pandemic aid and other funds, the Erie School District is using as guides its building plan and its strategic plan for academic improvement, which the School Board also approved in 2018. Having those plans in place before the influx of pandemic aid has been a great help, Polito said.
“We are fortunate to have both the strategic and financial plans,” he said.