Sewickley Academy to upgrade science labs, gym

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Sewickley Academy prides itself on innovative and creative teaching.

To keep the facilities on par with the faculty and staff, officials have announced plans to update the Oliver Building, which houses science programs, and the Means Alumni Gym.

Kolia O'Connor, head of school, said the renovations are part of the academy's master plan, developed in 2006.

"It's time for an update. The Oliver Building was built in 1986 and it is ready for some changes," he said.

Those changes involve increasing the square footage from approximately 750 feet to 1,200 feet and creating larger, more efficient classrooms and labs and replacing older equipment with state-of-the-art equipment.

A big plus for the science teachers will be housing the classroom and labs together, said Tim Hastings, director of buildings and grounds.

"They are in separate areas right now, and just having them in one place will make for a smoother transition from classroom to the labs," Mr. Hastings said.

Another big improvement will be one central system to provide air conditioning and heating to the building.

"When the building was built, it wasn't originally designed for air conditioning -- it was added in 1992. Right now, there are two different systems and it can be a real challenge to keep it cool," he said.

The integrated heating and air system will be more efficient and allow for more control.

Another improvement is lab space that will be available for students who wish to continue experiments and take on projects outside of the classroom.

"The theory is that if kids love science, they can go down before or after school to work on a project. If someone is excited about science, we want to keep that excitement going," Mr. O'Connor said.

Once the decision was made to renovate the science building, Mr. O'Connor said the faculty came up with a "wish list," which was then turned over to Jonathan Glance from Glance and Associates. Mr. Glance, a Sewickley Academy alumnus, is the principal architect on the project.

"It is great to come back as an alumnus and help create the changes to help the teachers teach the students today," he said.

Mr. Glance said they also will work on the outside of the building to help it blend in with the rest of the campus.

"When it was built in the 1980s, it was a modern-looking building. Our task is to match it with the rest of the campus and to create a handicapped entrance on the front of the building," he said.

While the building is compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations for accessibility, it leaves a lot to be desired, Mr. Hastings said.

"The renovations will make it a lot more accessibly friendly," he said.

The costs of the Oliver Building updates are estimated to be $3 million to $3.5 million.

The Means Alumni Gym renovations will require about $10 million, Mr. O'Connor said.

"It's going to be more than a gym. We hope to create an event center," he said.

The initial thought was to create a field house on the campus, but it would have been too large and "not an appropriate building for the size and location of our building," Mr. O'Connor said.

As with the Oliver Building renovations, the physical education faculty drew up its own wish list and those ideas were incorporated into the plans. The gym was built in 1962 and renovated in 1997.

The renovations will create an NCAA regulation-sized basketball curt and provide seating on three sides to accommodate 900 people for special events including graduation, concerts and assemblies for the entire school.

"It will enhance the sense of community," Mr. O'Connor said.

Work on the Oliver Building is expected to begin in May 2014 with a completion date of September 2014. The renovations on the Means Alumni Gym are to begin in January 2015, with its reopening planned for January 2016.

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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