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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