UCFSD tackles building issues as school year looms

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Pocopson Elementary is near capacity; solution sought for HS auditorium problem

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times


Although the new auditorium at Unionville High School is an acoustic gem in dry weather, rain hitting the roof can be sonically disruptive. Unionville-Chadds Ford School District officials are looking for a fix.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — With less than two weeks to go before the opening of schools, Unionville-Chadds Ford School District officials said Monday night that one of the most ambitious summer building, renovation and maintenance summers is all but complete and the district’s schools are ready to open.

The status of the buildings was discussed at some length as part of Monday night’s Board of Education work session.

A couple of vexing issues remain: solving an acoustic issue with the Unionville High School auditorium and the growth of the student population at Pocopson Elementary School, while at least one long-running issue, moisture coming through the flooring of the high school cafeteria appears to have been solved once and for all.

While the tight spaces at PES can be accommodated in the short term by hiring an additional teacher and reallocating space to free up one more classroom — and district administrators were able to do this without disrupting any special classes such as art or music — in the long term, the likely solution is to consider redistricting, especially as other district elementary schools have unused classrooms.

While the district is able to make the current school year work, based on projections, at least one board member, Steve Simonson, asked why the district can’t just move ahead and redistrict right away — potentially as soon as this school year.

Superintendent John Sanville said it would be important to have a lot of public input to such a move — one that could engender some anger and frustration by those who find themselves with children changing schools.

“This is an emotional issue,” Sanville said. “People purchased homes with the idea that their kids would be going to a specific school.”

While student population at Hillendale, Unionville and Chadds Ford elementary schools have been relatively stable in recent years, district curriculum director John Nolen said that Pocopson has seen growth in the last couple of years and is now close to capacity.

Sanville said that the district plans to have a more formal discussion of the long-term issue in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the acoustic issues with the high school auditorium — sounds of rain are surprisingly loud in the otherwise exceptional performing building. The issue came to a head back in June when hail all but disrupted the high school’s Senior Awards Night, making it almost impossible to hear speakers.

The building’s architect, Maryann Marotta, appeared at Monday night’s meeting to discuss the issue.

The auditorium was designed to be a “live box” she said — which enhances to acoustic performance of the building.

The issue seems to be when rain hits the arched metal roof, the sound is being transmitted — and potentially amplified by the roof. A layer of insulation sits between the outer metal and an inner metal shell, which sit in parallel. Marotta said she is working with her acoustical consultants to seek a solution. She noted that similar buildings with virtually the same design have not shown this behavior, which leaves it a bit of a mystery.

She did suggest that a coating of the roof surface was one possible fix, but board member Keith Knauss said he felt no fix should be tried until the actual cause of the problem is found.

The ongoing issues with moisture under the high school cafeteria floors, though, appears to be solved, district director of Buildings and Grounds Rick Hostetler said. Ultimately, the floor needed to be removed and a polyurethane-like substance applied below, before the flooring area could be replaced with tile. The district will have to pay about $76,000 of the $100,000 repair, the rest of which will be paid by Wolfsen which did the construction — which failed to apply sealant in all of the areas called for in the design — and MM Architects, which failed to spec sealant in a few other needed areas.

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  1. Dr. B. Langer says:

    First, the Auditorium exceeded permitted building height, now a wide variety of “minor” problems plaguing the taxpayer’s pocketbooks. Where was the people responsible for reviewing specs and monitoring construction. Didn’t we pay for this? We should have an in-house construction manager to watch over things – if we did and we’re in this current situation, it’s time to get someone else,,,

  2. TE Resident says:

    One of your “problems” is that you are ranked number 1 in the state. If I were a new resident moving to the area and I looked around at the options available and the cost of those options, of course I don’t know for sure, but I speculate that U CF would be tops on my list.

    Someone posted on Pattye Benson’s Community Matters a while ago that the average teacher salary in UCF is $60,000. The average teacher salary in TE is close to $90,000 per year. Our housing costs are higher and I would assume our taxes are significantly higher than yours and we’re ranked number 5. Since paying attention, I don’t remember TE being ranked higher than 3.

    So, all a new prospective resident has to do is take a quick look at the rankings, compare tax rates with other districts, visit Long Wood Gardens (1 time), tour your sprawling, surrounded by open land high school with the conference room section that matches a 5 star hotel and look out, you’re in for a big influx of new residents filling your school buildings to the brim.

    Good luck with that!

  3. Kristin Hoover says:

    It all comes down to leadership. If UCFSD had a strong superintendent and a board who cared about anybody but themselves, they would push back against egregious charges for repairs to a new building. They consider taxpayers a given source of money with little power over how that money is used. When Sanville allows and encourages education theft by non-residents, when nobody has “a pair” as UCFSD taxpayer points out, and when Pocopson fills to the brim because redistricting might upset somebody, then this is what you get. The taxpayers continue to get the bill and the Board/Sanville take turns covering up problem after problem and making each other happy. Pocopson parents who should be upset when their kids are in bigger classes and there are more parking problems at any event. The nurse and the Principal don’t increase in size simply because the number of students was greater. Strained systems don’t work as well. When there is no more money, then you just watch how they start the verbal war with the teachers and their union. It will all be their fault because of a lack of money and they will forget the mis-management that led to it. You can’t have a sustainable system with regard to the status of the district when you have these kinds of problems that go unchecked.

  4. UCFSD_TAxpayer says:

    “This is an emotional issue,” Sanville said. “People purchased homes with the idea that their kids would be going to a specific school.”

    TO BAD… The residents are already in the “Award Winning UCFSD”..

    BTW – I agree with del bittle – the district should pay a single dime for Wolfsen’s mistake – The board should “grow a pair”!!

  5. Dot says:

    It’s much easier for the school district to wait until the last minute to fix a problem. It must be done immediately without anytime to really think through a fix. Therefore, it will cost the tax payer twice the money to do address the problem.

  6. Observing says:

    Reconfiguration/re-districting should have occurred several years ago. It became a political hot potato and was placed on the back burner. Now Pocopson Elementary is unfairly bursting at the seems. Honestly, we should be looking at developing plans to expand at least one of our elementary schools – probably Hillendale – in the next ten years. Development in the region was “on hold” for a few years with the economy going south but the housing market is now re-awakening and there is going to be an influx of new homes built in the district (and especially the eastern part of the district) over the next decade.

  7. del bittle says:

    If Wolfsen “failed to apply sealant in all of the areas called for in the design” WHY are we paying anything?

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