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Opponents of Mt. Lebanon school work urge meeting attendance

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By Bill Zlatos
Monday, Feb. 8, 2010

The fliers are flying in Mt. Lebanon.

Opponents of a high school renovation and addition project — at a cost of up to $113.3 million — have been e-mailing a circular urging residents to attend a state-mandated hearing on the project at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 in the high school auditorium.

"The audience for these fliers are primarily people who are not aware of what is taking place," said Bill Lewis, 73, of Mt. Lebanon. "It's kind of a wake-up call."

Lewis is part of an opposition group of about 20 people that formed three weeks ago. Each member is distributing the circular. Lewis has e-mailed one to 50 people himself, while others in the group are mailing or delivering copies door to door.

Last month, the Mt. Lebanon school board voted to cap the project at $113.3 million. Spending that much would make the project the most expensive in the district's history, although some board members have said they will ensure the work comes in well below that figure.

The project — splits the cost almost evenly between renovations and new construction — would reduce the size of the school from 545,255 to 479,845 square feet. It would upgrade academic, arts and athletic space and, district officials say, would result in savings in operating costs from a more efficient building.

Lewis stressed that his group is not opposed to the work, just its cost.

"We think a project could come in at $85 million. This $113 million is excessive."

The school district's budget will grow from about $72.8 million this year to a projected $102.3 million in 2014-15 in part because of the high school project, according to a chart in the flier.

District officials said the latest projection is that the budget will rise to less than $102 million then because of the renovation, in addition to increased pension costs and salaries.

"We've done this projection just to show the board what could be," said Jan Klein, the district's director of business services. "This is a long time from now, and a lot can change from February 2010 and June 2015."

Klein disputed that the work could be done for $85 million. A renovation-only project would cost $103.2 million, according to an estimate from PJ Dick, the district's construction manager.

That would fix the school's roof and mechanical systems, install new windows and remove asbestos without improving space for arts and athletics, Klein said.

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