They had to gut the Pine Street school building in Ballston Spa in order to save it. Literally.
At one point, there was nothing left but brick walls and the roof, a temporary skeleton of steel and wood holding the 90-year-old building up while crews worked inside.
Before it was closed for renovation at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, the historic school building was crumbling. But district officials determined to save it as part of a district-wide construction project.
After being closed for the last year, Pine Street will reopen to students on Sept. 5, its interior spaces now filled with new classrooms with state-of-the-art educational gadgets like smart boards. But the outside looks much as it has for 90 years.
“We rebuilt the building from the ground up,” said Bill McMordie, a principal in Saratoga Project Management, which is overseeing a massive six-year renovation project taking place across the Ballston Spa School District.
The three interconnected buildings that together make up the Malta Avenue Elementary Complex — the Pine Street, Grove Street and Chapman Street buildings — were the focus of work this past year, bringing the district the challenges of preserving history. All three saw extensive and sometimes specialized work.
The Chapman Street building, which now houses district offices, was originally the high school, built in 1900. The two other buildings, which house classrooms, date from the 1920s.
“It was always part of the plan to keep their historic character,” Dragone said.
They are the oldest buildings in the district, as well as being the last schools located within the Ballston Spa village limits. A years-long debate about whether to renovate them or abandon them was settled in 2010 when voters approved a $49.2 million district-wide renovation project, now in its fourth year.
“All of those things that were talked about, do we keep the building, do we renovate the building, it has all come to fruition,” said Malta Avenue Principal Sharon D’Agostino.
The complex serves about 420 students in grades K-5.
The students who normally attend Malta Avenue will return in September after using the Milton Terrace South building on Wood Road during the past school year.
In part of a pattern that resembles the children’s game musical chairs, Milton Terrace South became available after the new Gordon Creek Elementary School was constructed, opening in 2013. It took the Milton Terrace South students, leaving that school available.
This coming year, Wood Road Elementary students will move into Milton Terrace South from their adjoining building, while Wood Road is renovated for a full year.
That’s one of the reasons this school year won’t start until the Friday after Labor Day, giving staff two extra days to prepare.
“We’re moving over 180 classrooms this year,” Dragone said.
In 2015-16, the Milton Terrace South building, which was built in the 1970s but has an outmoded “open classroom” design, will be torn down, to make way for a new bus loop to serve the three elementary schools in the Wood Road complex.
“Each stage has been deliberate, but we couldn’t move any kids until we had the new building,” Dragone said.
In the past, the three Malta Avenue buildings were linked by sometimes-narrow stairwells. Those steps have been replaced by new connecting corridors, bringing the buildings into compliance with federal handicapped access laws and making them seem like a single building. An elevator has also been installed for the first time in the two- and three-story buildings.
The Chapman Street building had significant water damage to its stone foundation. Contractors jacked the building up in sections, and replaced the old stone foundation with 61 tons of new bluestone foundation, mortared together much as the old foundation was.
“It was always part of the plan to keep the historical character,” Dragone said. “We had stonemasons working here every day.”
The original single-pane windows in the buildings were also replaced with new energy-efficient windows, though still in the same 10-foot-high window openings. Some of the work was done at night to avoid disturbing offices that continued to function.
“There’s been some really significant work, but if you just drive by you wouldn’t notice it’s new work,” Dragone said.
A ribbon-cutting, open house and barbecue to mark the school’s reopening will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3.