United board trims renovation project
ARMAGH -- United School Board on Tuesday agreed to pursue a renovation project at the district's elementary school that has an estimated cost of close to $11.4 million -- scaled back from a version identified last summer that had an expected price tag of $14.4 million.
The district also had considered a project that would have been further reduced in scope, with a projected cost of $10 million.
Superintendent Dr. David Blozowich said the mid-priced project "is the best deal all the way around" for the district.
He noted it will include a modified main entrance that will enhance security by directing visitors into the office area before they can gain access to other sections of the building.
"It will be in line with the current office area," he said of the enhanced entrance. "It will be a short distance for people to come through the main office."
According to a district press release, the mid-priced elementary project will "address only those items needed to maintain a safe and efficient educational learning environment." Other major project items will include replacement of the roof, windows and outdated kitchen equipment and updates of flooring, plumbing and the HVAC system. In addition, folding walls on the building's first floor will be replaced with permanent walls.
The school board also authorized district architectural consultant HHSDR of Sharon to submit Plancon documents to the state Department of Education that reflect the changed scope of the project. Blozowich noted Harrisburg officials' response to the documents will help determine how soon the district can proceed with bidding and construction of the project.
The modified elementary project was approved by a 7-2 vote, with board members Tommey and Ken Heming opposed.
"I know we need a new roof and new windows," Tommey Heming said. "I'm just worried about my taxpayers. There are hard times out there now."
"We definitely need it," Ken Heming said of the elementary upgrade. He said he disagreed with some items in the project but declined to elaborate.
According to the press release, financing of the modified building project is expected to require a 6.97-mill increase in United property taxes, which would be spread over three years.
That millage figure was proposed last month by representatives of investment broker Janney Montgomery Scott, LLC, which the board agreed on Tuesday to hire as bond underwriter for the elementary project. The board also authorized Tammy Tuccarello, United's director of finance, to hire Lynch and Lynch as bond counsel for the project. According to Blozowich, that firm provided the best quote from among three proposals the district received.
According to the press release, United officials envision financing the project with a 27-year bond issue. It's projected the state would reimburse 39.82 percent of project costs. The district plans to apply to the state for construction exceptions, if they're still available, to help offset increased millage in the second and third years of project financing.
Also Tuesday, the school board accepted, with regret, the retirement resignations of three United educators: science teacher Nicholas Gresh, who has served at least 21.5 years at the district; family and consumer science teacher Josephine Ross, with 14 years of service; and foreign language instructor John Oram, with 11 years of service.
According to Blozowich, all three will be able to take advantage of a one-time early retirement incentive plan, expiring today, that waives normal requirements that an instructor be at least 55 years of age and complete 15 years of service. The retirements will be effective at the end of the school year or other determined dates.
Denise Buzzinotti, vice president, told the retiring teachers, "This board values your commitment and loyalty." She said she considers the instructors members of the United family, adding that "it hurts my heart" to see them leave.
Gresh, who was in attendance, said he was unsure of his post-retirement plans but said now is "the right time" for him to conclude his career at United. He noted he actually has been associated with the district for 22.5 years, serving an initial year as a long-term substitute teacher. Gresh has served the last 11 years as president of the United Education Association.
"It's been just an incredible experience," he said of his time teaching at the district. "I wouldn't change it for anything."
He told the board, "You've given me the trust and confidence of knowing I'm going to have your children in my classroom," noting the goal he's shared with his fellow teachers has been "making a positive difference in their lives."
What else they did
In other personnel matters, the board agreed to place high school nurse Lori Kovach on a master's degree plus 45 pay scale, effective July 1, pending review of appropriate educational transcripts. Mary Miller resigned, effective immediately, from her supplemental position of varsity cheerleading coach. Darlene Tishock was approved as a homebound instructor for an elementary student, and elementary instructional aide Kim Houston retroactively was granted an unpaid leave on March 22.
By a bare 5-4 majority, United added Lynn Misko and Scott Cockrell to a list of guest teachers available to the district. Guest teachers are individuals who, with college degrees and training through the ARIN Intermediate Unit, are able to serve as substitute teachers although they lack state teaching certificates.
Blozowich indicated United has been relying regularly on guest teachers to fill in when needed in district classrooms.
The guest teachers were approved by Trudy DeRubis, Dan Clevenger, Pam Fisher, Don Davis and Ken Heming. Buzzinotti, Tommey Heming, John Poorbaugh and Norma Carpenter were opposed.
A list of five proposed guest teachers failed to gain approval last month on a split 3-3 vote.
Tuccarello announced that Metz and Associates, which currently manages the district's food services, and a second firm, Nutrition, have been approved to submit proposals as the board takes a closer look at its food service contract, which is coming up for renewal. A special meeting regarding the food service has been announced for 6 p.m. April 26 in the high school library.
In other business, the school board approved purchase of five 16-channel Panasonic digital video recorders from CDW-G at a cost of $27,000. The DVRs will be used in conjunction with district security cameras.
United also is purchasing the ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) test at a cost not to exceed $1,000. The test allows district staff to assess student athletes who have suffered head trauma and compare the results with a previous baseline test.
The district renewed a contract with Security Benefits Life Insurance and agreed to continue participating in a cooperative purchasing agreement through ARIN.
The board set June 3 as the graduation date for the United Class of 2011. It authorized Judy Shomo and one student to attend the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science state competition May 15-17 at Penn State, at a cost of $590. Coaches Robert Penrose, Chris Matava, Thomas Whitcomb and LeeAnn Ault were authorized to attend the PIAA state track meet May 26-28 in Shippensburg, provided district students advance to the competition; the combined cost to the district is estimated at $2,035.
The board agreed to waive a building usage fee of about $50 but did not waive a related hourly custodial fee of $25 for the United Parents in Education Boosters group, which plans to use the high school gym and locker rooms to stage a basketball game between members of the Steelers and district representatives. DeRubis noted the board has never waived the custodial charge for past events.
The following members were named to a strategic plan professional education committee that will develop a three-year plan beginning with the 2012-13 school year: parents Melanie Brilhart and Kristalee Tomalson; community representatives Dorene Schillinger and Nathan McNutt; and business representatives Craig McLaughlin and Scott McCully.
In her public relations report, Buzzinotti noted a grandparent breakfast and visitation program is scheduled Monday through Wednesday at the elementary school. Fifth-graders Jaden Draksler, Travis Mack and Sean Marsh and sixth-graders Brittney Edger, Rebecca Snyder and Christian Matava will represent the school in the Indiana County Principals' Spelling Bee slated May 11 at Purchase Line School District.
At the high school, students donated $2,100 to a Japanese disaster relief effort. The majorette squad placed first in the junior varsity division at the 16th Annual Blair County Majorette Contest. The varsity cheerleaders were grand champions of the high school division at the Spirit Unlimited competition held at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Va.
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