Study on Norwin STEM Center recommends new site, says size will increase

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The suggested site has changed and the estimated square footage has increased for the proposed Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- or STEM -- Innovation Center on the Norwin School District campus.

The information was presented as part of a progress report Norwin school directors heard Monday in the ongoing feasibility study for creating such a center.

Superintendent William Kerr envisions the STEM Center as a place where Norwin students could learn the math, science and technical skills needed to succeed in the technical jobs that are on the rise these days.

Originally proposed as an approximately 22,000-square-foot building equipped with state-of-the-art technology, math instruments and science laboratories, the center could be built as part of an industry-school collaboration, school officials have said. Administrators originally intended to ask business partners to pay part of the center's cost, but the district is now exploring a major capital campaign to build the center without using local tax dollars.

In January, Mr. Kerr said an estimated 75,000 STEM-related jobs are going unfilled in the state because the workforce lacks the skills needed. He also said 60 percent of new jobs that will open this century will require skills possessed by only 20 percent of current workers.

On Monday night, Dwight Knouse of Hayes Large Architects LLP, the firm doing the feasibility study, said after janitor closets and restrooms were added to the plan, the building came out to around 36,010 square feet.

He outlined some potential sources of funding for the center, including a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant of $2.5 million; a matching grant of $2.5 million from an unnamed southwestern Pennsylvania foundation, and other sources for smaller grant amounts.

Mr. Knouse estimated the total cost of the project could be between $9.6 million and $10.6 million.

He said building on the original site considered for the center, near the high school, would have been very expensive because of its steep grade.

The new site under consideration would be on an athletic field just west of the administration building, Mr. Knouse said.

The first part of the feasibility study was a visioning process with members of the STEM Center steering committee, he said. Questions asked as part of the process, he said, were "What is the job market going to look like in 2030? What skills are your kids going to need?"

Several curriculum pathways were identified, he said, including computer science, biomedical technology and engineering.

As envisioned by the architects, the STEM Center would include rooms where students could learn skills needed in biomedical fields, advanced manufacturing, energy and engineering, computer science and engineering.

According to district spokesman Jon Szish, the original plan included an Air Force JROTC aerospace program in the center. However, that program now will be relocated to the high school building and some technical education classes will move to new STEM center. 

The mechanical room would be off the engineering section, and would be open so students could see the machinery and calculate how much energy the building was using, Mr. Knouse said.

The building also would have a separate entrance on the first floor for the STEM-related preschool the district wants to open.

"Our highest priority is to provide expanded learning opportunities to connect to real world experiences, identifying those high-demand occupations of the future," Mr. Kerr said.

He said the feasibility study will be done in mid-December, and the school board will see a full presentation in January.

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer:

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