Extensive renovations scheduled at Woodland Hills Academy

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More than 500 teachers and students at Woodland Hills Academy are packing up to move in preparation for the 2014-15 school year.

The school will be relocated to the Word of God School in Swissvale for at least a year while renovation projects are completed.

The renovation will cost the district approximately $15 million and will take up about 80 percent of funds left in a bond the Woodland Hills School District took out in 2005.

The cost to lease the Word of God School is approximately $9,000 per month, in addition to the cost of utilities. The funds for rent and utilities will not come out of the bond but likely from the district's general fund, assistant superintendent Gerald Chessman said.

The bond, designated for construction and renovation costs, first was used to renovate sports facilities at the district's high school, including the football field, stadium and softball and baseball field in a $9 million project.

The district has a series of plans for the century-old building, located in Turtle Creek. Part of the plan includes increasing lighting panels schoolwide, adding an elevator, lowering water fountains to help make the school compliant with federal disability law and handicap-accessible, adding new staging equipment in the auditorium, installing bathrooms into the kindergarten classrooms and reinstalling the ceiling tiles and terrazzo floors.

After renovations, there will be space for approximately 100-150 more students to attend the academy.

The building used to house the East Junior High School, before the district consolidated its two junior high schools into one. It had been abandoned for years before the opening of the academy in 2009 and is in need of "serious cosmetic and internal repair," Mr. Chessman said.

"Even the steps leading up to the school's main entrance are crumbling," he said.

Tara Reis, a board member and district parent, said she doesn't think it is practical to spend a large portion of the bond money on only one building in the district.

Once the renovations are completed, about $4 million will be left in the bond for other construction projects.

"You can't do a whole lot with that," she said. "I didn't see the reasoning behind putting everything we had left into one building that's 100 years old. Why are we spending all this money on this hundred-year-old building when we have all these other buildings in the district that need it just as much?"

The district will begin advertising the bidding package for contractors in June and will vote on a contractor by the end of July. The project will break ground in August, with the students back in the building by January 2016, Mr. Chessman said.

The district has "no specific plans or buildings in mind" for renovation with the remaining $4 million in the bond, he said.

Clarece Polke: cpolke@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1889 or on Twitter @clarepolke.

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