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Superintendents’ forum: Buildings and the Road to Modernization

This article was originally published in the Reading Eagle: https://www.readingeagle.com/2023/09/28/superintendents-forum-buildings-and-the-road-to-modernization/

By: Dr. Jennifer Murray, Reading School District

Thursday, September 28, 2023

In 1927, a building was erected on 13th Street in Reading. At the time it would accommodate more than 1,800 students. This building was dubbed “the Castle on the Hill”, for obvious reasons, and once you see her, you will understand.

But the building was more than bricks and mortar; this structure housed the students of Reading High School and was the new home of the Reading Red Knights. The architects and engineers at the time had such a vision that the building was recognized a few years ago by Architectural Digest, a national publication, as the most beautiful high school in Pennsylvania.

Over the years, many additions and renovations were made to this building, which now accommodates almost 5,000 students. The same is true for all the buildings in the Reading School District as it works to better serve students and staff. These structures have gone on to serve many generations of Red Knights and became second homes for many students.

School buildings are an essential element within the education system. They provide a physical space for learning and play a role in creating a positive and stimulating environment for students and educators. This has always been true and may be more relevant now than ever.

The lessons learned over the past couple of years of being excluded from these school buildings for a period of time demonstrated just how important the common learning spaces truly are and how they are intrinsically linked.

In addition, our ever-advancing society demands a more robust student experience. The Reading School District recognizes this importance by not only modernizing existing structures but building a new and innovative school called the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Academy.

It is recognized that schools that are well-maintained and equipped with modern technology and facilities are better able to support students’ learning and development. In turn, a well-educated population is essential to our community for driving economic growth and innovation, which can lead to increased investment in building modernization and meeting the needs of our ever-changing society.

This new, modern school will be built where an abandoned factory once stood. At more than 140,000 square feet, it encompasses an entire city block. It will be home to approximately 1,000 high school students. Besides being equipped with state-of-the-art technology and amenities; some factors considered for building modernization are as follows:

• Improve student performance:  Students who learn in modern, well-equipped schools tend to perform better academically. Modernizing schools with state-of-the-art technology and amenities contributes to the readiness of the future student.

• Increase student safety: Modern schools are equipped with the latest safety features, which help to create a safer and more secure learning environment.

• Reduce absenteeism: Students are more likely to attend school if they enjoy their learning environment. Modernizing schools can make them more inviting and engaging for students, which can lead to reduced absenteeism and improved academic outcomes.

• Attract and retain top teachers: It is very important to recognize that a building is just that but for the educators who call it their workspace. Without good teachers, these spaces can feel empty. Teachers are drawn to schools that offer modern facilities and resources. Modernizing schools can help to attract and retain top teachers, which can lead to improved student outcomes.

• Increase property values:  Modernized schools are more attractive to residents, homebuyers and businesses. This can lead to increased property values in the surrounding area.

Overall, education and building modernization are two complementary concepts that can have a positive impact on students, teachers, communities, and the economy.

In 1927, when the “Castle on the Hill” was built, they incorporated what was a state-of-the-art building, a great staff, a tribute and remnants of the past, making it more than a new building or some physical space but a second home for many generations of Reading Red Knights. This legacy will be mimicked at the new Reading School District STEM Academy.

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