Tours on Saturday will welcome public to new South Fayette school

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Two years ago, when Greg Wensell became principal of grades 3-5 in South Fayette, his students were housed in two school buildings.

When classes resume Aug. 21, all 700 students in those grades who are under his supervision will be under one roof -- in the new intermediate school built on the Old Oakdale Road campus.

"It's going to be nice to have a home," Mr. Wensell said during a tour of the building.

The public can see the school at 9 a.m. Saturday at the dedication and grand opening, which will include building tours and light refreshments. At 11 a.m., the football boosters will host a family festival at the stadium.

The $30 million intermediate school, built to ease crowding, will specialize in environmental education and lessons in science, technology, engineering, art and math, known collectively as STEAM.

The 125,000-square-foot facility has about 50 classrooms, three STEAM labs, a rooftop garden, a cafeteria/commons a library, a combination gymnasium-auditorium and hallway lockers.

The intermediate school will serve about 677 students. Without fifth grade students, middle school enrollment will drop from about 803 to 596. With third and fourth grades moved, the elementary school population will decrease from about 1,172 to 704.

Portable classroom trailers have been eliminated at the elementary school, which had been the most crowded.

About 40 teachers got their first peek at the new intermediate school last week as they unpacked boxes and set up classrooms.

Fourth-grade teacher Karley Rossi, who previously taught in a trailer, said her new classroom will expand possibilities for pupils.

"There's a lot more space and a lot more opportunities for the kids to do hands-on activities," she said.

Gina Whigham, a fourth-grade teacher, looked forward to gathering her students in the reading nook -- which has a rocking chair and windows for natural light -- and to having access to the STEAM studios.

"There is room for so much growth now that we have the resources for it," Mrs. Whigham said.

The school has a STEAM lab on each of its three floors. Each lab includes two colorfully designed rooms, a mural and a naturally lit display area for student work.

Superintendent Bille Rondinelli said each "innovation studio" has a theme -- earth and space, robotics and environment.

Teachers can use the spaces to collaborate on special activities -- for example, designing with Legos -- to enhance their regular curriculums, she said.

In the academic wings, laptop computers, for use in regular classrooms, are stored in cupboards with charging stations. About 28 desktop computers are available in the library. The building is equipped with wireless Internet.

Ms. Rondinelli noted that with grades 3-5 moving, space will be available to expand technology in the elementary and middle schools.

The district is establishing "technology learning centers" for K-2 and design-focused technology hubs for grades 6-8, she said.

In addition to an emphasis on technology, the intermediate school features opportunities for environmental education.

Students will learn lessons about plant growth in the rooftop garden, which absorbs rainwater and reduces stormwater runoff.

Pupils will grow vegetables in outdoor planters for the school cafeteria and for needy families. Third-graders will work with a butterfly-attracting garden.

The gym/auditorium includes bleacher seating for 722, a climbing wall and a stage with easy access to music and art rooms.

The new building is equipped with the same security system as the other campus schools.

Bus and car traffic will be separated. School buses will drop off and pick up students at the back of the school, known as the commons/cafeteria entrance.

Parents will use the front entrance.

Parents helped design the school's playground, which includes swings, climbers and the schoolyard games hopscotch and foursquare.

"Input from the community really has been incorporated into the building," Mr. Wensell said.

The school has received its occupancy permit, but workers will be on site as they finish a punch list of minor tasks, Ms. Rondinelli said.

The superintendent said that moving forward, the district will remain focused on academic experiences rather than bricks and mortar.

"It's not about the space," Ms. Rondinelli said. "It's what you do in the space."

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Andrea Iglar, freelance writer:


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