Penn Hills opens new high school

The good old days, past and present

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The North American League of Slobs was not much interested in the Penn Hills School District's new $58 million senior high school, which opened for classes Wednesday. They were there to talk about the past.

The district opened the new and old schools to the public Friday and held a closing ceremony for the old school, built in 1959. That afternoon, the league -- four 1976 Penn Hills graduates -- arrived at the old building to re-create a photo from their high school newspaper, Penn Points, taken 38 years ago.

The four men, Mike Forbeck of Verona; Gary Free of Philadelphia; Jim Fornof of Ashburn, Va.; and Dan O'Connor of Battle Creek, Mich., described the North American League of Slobs -- NALOS, for short -- as a sort of anti-establishment club. All four worked for the student newspaper: Mr. Forbeck and Mr. Fornof were photographers, Mr. O'Connor was a movie critic, and Mr. Free was a cartoonist who often worked the NALOS logo into the cartoons he drew for the paper.

As they walked toward the lobby, the four men engaged in some friendly bickering over the 1976 class theme. One said it was "Taking Care of Business." Another said it was "Holding on to Yesterday." No, no. Surely it was something bicentennial-themed, insisted another. They never came to an agreement.

One day in February 1976, the four men put on NALOS T-shirts, gathered around a smooth, granite wall with square holes in the lobby of the school, and mugged for a photo. Mr. Forbeck and Mr. Free both wriggled into the T-shirts on Friday, though they didn't fit quite like they did nearly four decades ago.

In the original photo, Mr. O'Connor's head, arms and torso are through one of the square holes. Last week, he put one arm through the square and peered through the hole from the other side of the wall.

"I weighed 95 pounds then," he said.

As a senior in high school, Mr. Free had no trouble lacing one leg through a square and pressing his back against the wall. He got a leg through the square Friday and held a similar pose while the photo was taken.

While NALOS and other alumni reminisced in the halls of the old school, others strolled through the new school, which looks futuristic compared with the brick-and-gray, small-windowed old school. The new building has high ceilings, natural light from skylights, gleaming floors, fresh paint and state-of-the-art technology.

The main gymnasium seats 1,900 and was designed to be divided into three courts. Standing on the sidelines of the gym, the red-and-yellow bleachers are unremarkable, but when looking at the bleachers from the center court, the red seats spell "PHHS" on one side of the stands and "BIG RED" on the other. The auditorium seats 1,000 and is equipped with state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems.

Construction began in December 2010. After the district's 1,415 high school students move into the new building, the old one will be demolished to make way for a new parking area and athletic fields. Money for the new high school comes from a $130 million bond issue floated in 2009 for that project and a new central elementary to replace the district's three elementary schools.

District spokeswoman Teresita Kolenchak said the new elementary school is scheduled to be completed in summer 2014 and will be open for the 2014-15 school year. She said the new school is slated to cost $40 million.

The new high school was designed by Architectural Innovations, which used Native American culture and art as its design concept. The district's mascot is an Indian.

The design of the building separates the academic wings from the large assembly areas so the academic wings can be secured on nights and weekends when the assembly areas will be used for community and school activities. The cafeteria is large enough to accommodate the students in three lunch periods. The school's new HVAC system is expected to save 30 percent in energy costs.

education - neigh_east

Annie Siebert: or 412-263-1613. Twitter:@AnnieSiebert. Mary Niederberger contributed. First Published January 3, 2013 9:45 AM


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