Firm backed to build technology center in Norwin

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The Norwin school board has made a tentative selection of an architectural firm to do a STEM center feasibility study.

Superintendent William Kerr said Hayes Large Architects LLP will be on the agenda for a vote at next Monday's meeting to be approved as the firm to do the feasibility study for the district's proposed $5.5 million Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Innovation Center.

Monday's tentative selection came after architects from three firms gave presentations on what their companies could do.

Dwight Knouse II, Brenda Dunkelberger and Randy Hudson of Hayes Large Architects, Altoona, said they got focus groups together when they did a feasibility study for the Monroe Advanced Technology Academy in Leesburg, Va., to see what the school should be.

They said Gary Nevius of the Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies, which they said offers students real-world experience, would also serve as a consultant on the Norwin study.

The Hayes Large Architects said they would use Nancy Sturm as an educational consultant, since she worked on a technical center that is financially self-sustaining. They showed a drawing of the K. Leroy Irvis science center, which they designed for the Community College of Allegheny County on Pittsburgh's North Side.

Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates of Mechanicsburg, also presented a preliminary design plan for the innovation center, which Mr. Kerr envisions as a place where Norwin students could work with employers to learn high-tech skills needed in the 21st century workforce.

Randy Davis of the group said Crabtree and Rohrbaugh has 84 staff members. Their architects designed the Hazleton Area Academy of Science, a STEM school, and are working on a high school project for the State College Area School District, they said.

Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates proposed doing a feasibility study for $17,500 plus some reimbursable travel and copy expenses.

Architects from Canzian/Johnston and Associates of New Kensington also gave a presentation. They transformed North Washington Elementary School in the Kiski Area School District into a grade five and six STEM education school.

In a stairwell of the new elementary school, they designed tiles that show the strata of the earth and layers of the atmosphere, so the stairwell can be used as a teaching tool, the Canzian planners said.

They proposed doing the feasibility study for $31,400.

In discussion after the presentations, school directors favored Hayes Large over the other firms for several reasons.

Mr. Kerr said they were tentatively selected because they are willing to help with grant writing for the STEM school, and also help with the business plan needed for the project. He said their feasibility study proposal is also very student-centered.

John Wilson, district business manager, said Hayes Large also has experience with the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

Mr. Kerr said money for the feasibility study will come from the district's capital project fund.

Earlier in the meeting, Mr. Kerr described possible funding sources for the STEM Center itself.

The district will apply for a $2.5 million grant from a major southwestern Pennsylvania foundation with Penn State Greater Allegheny in McKeesport as the primary applicant. That grant, if received, will serve as matching funds for a $2.5 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, he said.

Mr. Kerr also said the district will apply to the foundation for $500,000 for startup funds for innovative programs and for STEM center staffing and management.

During the meeting Monday night, Natalie McCracken, assistant superintendent of elementary education, also presented a proposal for a STEM preschool for 4-year-olds called the School for Early Education Development in STEM (SEEDS).

She said curriculum in the school would be based on Pennsylvania early learning standards and would incorporate big spaces and lots of learning materials.

Mr. Kerr said the feasibility study for the preschool will be done as part of the larger study for the STEM center.

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Anne Cloonan, freelance writer:


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