Two years from now, Pikesville High School will look completely different. The exterior will be sleek and modern. The interior will be compact and modern. At a cost of $40 million to $45 million, the long-awaited and much-discussed renovation of the Baltimore County Public Schools building has begun.
Ed Mitzel, Pikesville's principal, is thrilled.
"It's very exciting to have this opportunity to update the learning atmosphere," Mitzel said of the project, currently in the design phase. "We will have a school for the 21st century."
Construction is scheduled to begin in July. The school, at 7621 Labyrinth Road, will remain open and classes will continue during the two-year project. It is scheduled for completion before the start of the 2016-17 academic year.
The project began about four years ago with parents expressing concern over how hot the school — which lacks air conditioning — got in the fall and spring months.
"It's always been hot, even when I went there," said Jeff Jerome, a Pikesville High parent and current president of the school's PTSA. "It could reach over 100 degrees. The kids weren't able to focus on their lessons."
Jerome said the PTSA brought the problem to the attention of the school board. "A number of parents testified [before the board] about how difficult that made the school environment."
The PTSA even initiated an engineering study to find out why the school got so hot inside. The result: Thanks to its black metal panels, many glass windows and little shade, Pikesville High tended to get hotter than other county schools.
A study by Baltimore County engineers followed. They determined that the building, opened in 1964, had more problems than lack of air conditioning.
"The building was structurally sound but it wouldn't support retrofitting air conditioning," Jerome said. "It really needed a total upgrade."
Pete Dixit agreed. "When we did a building analysis, we decided it was in our best interest to do a renovation. We'll end up with a modern building that is up-to-date to all standards," said Dixit, county public schools' executive director of physical facilities.
Current student enrollment is 979 ninth- to twelfth-graders although the 171,000-square foot building can accommodate slightly more than 1,000 students. The square footage of the building will remain the same although the interior will be reconfigured.
"There will be a minimal net gain of classrooms but a better design," Principal Mitzel said. "I'm not looking at a big change in student numbers."
Dixit outlined the infrastructure improvements. An air-conditioning system will be installed. The electrical, plumbing and sprinkler/fire alarm systems will be upgraded. The roof, interior and exterior doors, and windows will be replaced.
On the exterior, a new entrance with a double foyer will funnel into the administrative office. The southern single-story wing will be demolished and replaced with two additions, a science wing and a mathematics wing.
The wings will be oriented to improve student movement inside the building, to allow better air circulation and for security, according to Merril Plait, county public schools' administrator of engineering and construction.
Inside the building, state-of-the-art equipment will be installed in the wings and in the rest of the classrooms, including improved Internet connectivity. Security measures will be improved. There will be more cameras in the hallways and, for classrooms, one-way glass in the door "window" and automatic locks are in the works.
The courtyard in the middle of the building will be filled with classrooms. There will be a new dance studio, an additional art room and digital learning spaces. The cafeteria will be enlarged, the existing auditorium will be renovated and the gymnasium locker room upgraded.
On May 4, Pikesville High School will celebrate its 50th anniversary. PTSA President Jerome issued an invitation to anyone who wants a last look at the school. "The alums can visit the old school before renovation starts," he said.
Principal Mitzel is particularly pleased with the way county public school officials handed the renovation process. "From Day One, all the stakeholders – teachers, administration, the community, curriculum specialists – were involved," he said.