Nearly 50 years after its opening, the Pikesville High School community has much more to celebrate than an anniversary.
Following a communitywide effort that involved students, parents, school officials and area politicians, the school will undergo a long-awaited, $40 million renovation, which will bring the institution on Labyrinth Road air conditioning, updated technology, new science and math wings, an updated auditorium, new classroom space and a number of other modernized amenities. The renovations begin this summer, just after graduates from the school’s 50th class depart.
Two celebrations will commemorate the half-century milestone, one for the entire school community this weekend and one for the first two graduating classes in September.
A senior at the school, Alex Jerome, served as a catalyst for the renovations by actually taking temperature and humidity measurements after having gone through some “outrageously” hot days.
Jerome saw students who were weary-eyed and dehydrated and found it hard to concentrate, just wanting to rest their heads on their desks at the end of some school days. Even teachers complained about the 100-plus-degree temperatures, he said.
“I came home one day [and] one of my papers was drenched in sweat,” recalled Jerome. “I got home and my dad asked, ‘What happened?’”
“[It] looked like he dropped it in water,” said his father, Jeff Jerome. “He said, ‘I don’t think I can take four more years of this,’ so I encouraged him to figured out if there was something that he could do.”
Alex took a digital thermometer to school and found temperatures of up to 110 degrees. He also recorded humidity levels above 60 percent, he said. He took the findings to the school board, who in turn launched their own investigation into the building’s microclimate.
What they determined was that with black doors, exterior panels and double-paned windows, the school’s design actually attracts heat.
“It felt like being in an oversized greenhouse being cooked,” said Alex Jerome.
In the end, school administrators, local elected officials and community representatives in Pikesville all rallied for better air conditioning. But because the 50-year-old building doesn’t have the infrastructure to support retrofitting for air conditioning, a complete renovation is necessary, said assistant principal Kevin Whatley.
“It is a full school renovation,” said Whatley, who has been at Pikesville for 16 years.
Major components of the renovation include the demolition of the school’s two ramps and science wing, which will be replaced by new science and math wings. The science wing will get a new greenhouse, and new spaces will accommodate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs such as Project Lead the Way, which is in its third year at Pikesville. The school’s courtyard will be become instructional space and will include a new career and counseling center, computer labs and an interactive multimedia production facility with a television studio.
The school’s weight room will expand, and locker rooms will be renovated. The cafeteria will be bigger, and the school’s auditorium will be updated for better acoustics and get new lights and a new sound system.
The school will be updated for ADA accessibility as well, with elevators to take students to the second floor and down to the locker rooms. Chair lifts will also be installed.
Although the school won’t have a dance program, a dance studio will be built during the renovations to conform to regulations mandating such studios in new school buildings.
The front office suite will also be designed so that visitors must enter the school directly through the office during school hours.
Principal Ed Mitzel said the school has been involved throughout the process, with Whatley meeting with architects and soliciting input from the school’s department heads when necessary.
“It’s been a very collaborative process and very empowering as two school leaders to be brought in early on as part of the discussion,” he said.
While the renovations may force the removal of the school’s murals — each graduating class has added its own touch to the collective history of the school by painting a mural — plans call for digitizing the artwork and displaying it in some form in an area that will dedicated to the old school.
The renovations are scheduled to be completed in time for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Two Chances to Celebrate
With the school approaching its 50th anniversary in the fall, members of the newly formed alumni association decided to hold an all-class reunion to say goodbye to the old Pikesville High School.
The free event, which runs Sunday, May 4, from noon to 4:30 p.m., features class meet-up areas, food trucks, old yearbooks and 50th anniversary T-shirts for sale, various displays, walks through the building, a slideshow, recognition of distinguished alumni, a performance by the Pikesville Alumni Choir and a preview of the new school with state and county political leaders.
“I think the event will put an exclamation point on what a fabulous 50 years Pikesville has had,” said Jeff Jerome, describing his time at Pikesville as “almost a movie high school experience” with great music, dances and academics.
“For me, it was just what high school should have been,” he said.