The original York Centralized High School has for more than a decade enjoyed life as a middle school. Now the school, built in 1950, is undergoing yet another evolution - this time to an elementary school.
After a $9 million upfit that includes demolishing one old wing and constructing a new one, moving walls and modernizing classrooms, Harold C. Johnson Elementary School will reopen in the fall for about 475 students in prekindergarten through grade four.
The project is the final phase of a massive York school district construction and grade level reshuffling plan that became reality with voters' 2007 approval of an $85 million bond referendum.
The bond funded construction of the new York Comprehensive High School and Floyd D. Johnson Technology Center, and renovations at several other schools, including Harold C. Johnson.
The Harold C. Johnson construction project began in June and is expected to be finished by mid July, just weeks before students arrive for the first day of classes on Aug. 17.
Work has been moving along quickly, according to Mark Hendry, who will become the school's new principal in June. Hendry is currently principal at York's Cotton Belt Elementary.
"Every time I come, there's so much progress," Hendry said last week, during a morning tour of the school with several district administrators.
Because of the building's original roots as a high school, the new school will offer some benefits not usually available at elementary schools - including an auditorium and gym, a large music room and the original athletic fields.
Matt Brown, assistant superintendent, said the York district conducted a needs assessment several years ago, before the new high school on Lincoln Road was built. As a result of those findings, Brown said, transforming Harold C. Johnson into an elementary school was determined to be the most economical use of the district's resources.
"It was the best thing for our community," he said. "It was the best scenario that would give us capacity in the elementary schools."
As part of the fall opening of Harold C. Johnson - which will become the district's fifth elementary school - 2011 attendance lines were redrawn for York's elementary schools, Brown said. The new lines were approved after a series of community meetings last spring. All five elementary schools will house students in grades kindergarten through four.
When the project is completed, York's elementary schools "will truly be community schools," with only about 450 to 500 students at each school, Superintendent Vernon Prosser said
Fifth and sixth grades attend York Intermediate School, located at the former junior high campus, while the old high school became a middle school for seventh and eighth grades. Ninth-graders moved to the new high school.
The Harold C. Johnson renovations include demolishing a 17,000-square-foot wing and constructing an early childhood wing, administrative area and a new front entrance with security features similar to the high school. The district saved the old slate floor in the school's lobby, Brown said.
The new early childhood wing includes one pre-kindergarten classroom, five kindergarten classrooms, five first-grade classrooms and support areas for special services such as reading and speech.
The back wing of the school is being renovated to house 15 classrooms for grades two through four. The work - done by architectural firm LS3P Associates, Ltd., and general contractor Edifice Inc., which also built the new high school - includes renovations to the existing gym, auditorium, cafeteria, art and music rooms and media center, and the addition of a science classroom. Classrooms are being upgraded to meet new building codes and technology standards. Security upgrades are included.
Brown said the separate science area will be an advantage because teachers and students can set up experiments and leave them for several days, instead of having to move them for other class work.
Improvements to the site include a new bus loop, parking and playground areas. The pick-up area for kindergarten and first-grade students will be at the front of the school, while the pick-up area for second through fourth grades will be on the side.
Hendry said staff members for the new elementary school have already been identified. All but a few of the employees will be moved from York's other elementary schools.
Brown said the Harold C. Johnson building has a special connection to many people in western York County because of its roots as a high school building. "A lot of people came through this building," said Brown, a York native who graduated from the original high school.
Brown and Prosser said York is among school districts across the state that are trying to make good use of existing resources by bringing them up to today's instructional standards.