Shush! ‘Quieter’ Renovations OK’d At Pottsgrove High

POTTSTOWN PA – Contractors will beef up the sound-dampening properties of some classrooms to be renovated in Pottsgrove High School and make them quieter places to learn, the district Board of School Directors agreed Tuesday (Aug. 12, 2014).

Pottsgrove school board members Rick Rabinowitz, left, and John Rossi confer before their meeting Tuesday

Pottsgrove school board members Rick Rabinowitz, left, and John Rossi confer before their meeting Tuesday

That’s good news on two fronts, according to senior project manager Jim Keiffer of KCBA Architects in Hatfield PA. Because students will be better able to hear what’s being said in class, their performance should improve. And the board’s willingness to spend $61,583 for these improvements now enables it to lay claim to a $2 million state grant later, he added.

The added acoustic expense wasn’t planned, however, so Keiffer warned directors they would spend a substantial portion of money set aside in a $100,000 contingency fund for unexpected costs related to the high school’s environmentally friendly design. More than $38,000 remains in the fund, and while Kieffer could not guarantee no other added costs would arise, he said the possibility was low.

Keiffer is overseeing the three-year, roughly $30 million reconstruction of the high school on Kauffman Road that began in June. The district won tentative approval earlier this year to receive a $2 million Pennsylvania Alternative and Clean Energy grant for the work if it was deemed eligible for a designation known as LEED Gold. The ranking certifies the building meets a set of high energy efficiency and usability standards.

Lowering room noise below a level of 45 decibels is a pre-requisite for LEED Gold certification, Keiffer explained. Audio consultants hired by KCBA on the district’s behalf relied on computer modeling to determine the anticipated noise in some rooms would be much higher. Four specific areas are affected, he noted: two music rooms, and two engineering labs.

Although the computer models proposed about a dozen different remedies for each area, Keiffer said, architects settled on installing combinations of sound-deadening wall panels and ceiling tiles, as well as some structural modifications. The extra cost includes change orders of $42,948 to be paid to the project’s mechanical contractor, and $18,635 to its general contractor.

Overall, the work necessary to meet all LEED Gold requirements should cost about $856,000, district Director of Facilities and Physical Plants Michael Katzenmoyer reported. If the district stays within budget and wins the grant, the excess $1.1 million could cover other reconstruction costs.

The real beneficiaries of the changes would be students, according to Keiffer. “Studies show that the educational performance of students is directly related to how well they hear what’s being taught,” he explained. The extra expense “is one of those things you do to get results. It’s really money well spent.”

Responding to a question from director and musician David Faulkner, Keiffer acknowledged the changes would also somewhat alter the brightness of sound in the music rooms. “It’s a compromise,” Keiffer admitted. “We’re not building a concert hall; it’s a classroom first.”

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Aug. 12 meeting):

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