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Indiana Area School Board hires architect

| Sunday, April 29, 2012, 1:01 p.m.

L. Robert Kimball & Associates of Ebensburg will conduct a feasibility study in the Indiana Area School District.

The school board selected the architectural firm at its meeting Monday night from a list of four finalists.

Kimball will conduct a thorough examination of the district's six school buildings and recommend what the district should do to improve its buildings. Those recommendations could lead to a new building project, a renovation of one or more current buildings and/or closing one or more schools.

Among the current problems in the district's buildings are boilers that need to be replaced at Horace Mann Elementary School and a leaking roof at the senior high school. Three of the district's four elementary schools have not had a major renovation project in the last 20 years.

Kimball was among four companies that interviewed with the board at its Jan. 12 meeting. Eckles Architecture & Engineering, HHSDR Architects & Engineers and Hayes Large Architects were the other three finalists.

Board President Diana Paccapaniccia said she favored Kimball because the company representatives focused on their merits for completing a feasibility study rather than the buildings they can produce.

"I think all four architects that came in can do a beautiful job to renovate or build a beautiful school that would suit the needs of our district," she said, "but that's not what we're looking for. We're looking at a feasibility study ... and I think the firm that did the best with that was Kimball. They came in and addressed the issue right away."

If Kimball would make recommendations for renovations or constructing a new building, the board is not obligated to choose the firm as the architect for those projects, although that is the customary action.

Board member Doug Steve offered support for Kimball, along with HHSDR, because of the work each firm has done within the county.

Kimball worked with Indiana County to build the recently completed county jail and is working on Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Center. HHSDR worked on building projects in the Blairsville-Saltsburg, Marion Center and Homer-Center school districts.

The motion to hire Kimball passed unanimously but not without some initial opposition in the discussion.

Board member Walter Schroth said he thought the board should narrow the four choices down to two finalists and then invite those two architects back for another interview.

Vice President Joe Girardi made the motion to hire Kimball. Board member Leonard Anderson then made a motion to table, but it didn't receive a second.

Kimball will be paid a fee of $5,000 for the feasibility study, which was the lowest amount offered among the four finalists.

It was also reported at Monday's school board meeting that the district had yet to receive any of the expected donations for the Fifth Street Stadium Project.

The main portion of the project would replace the natural grass surface with artificial turf on the football and soccer fields.

The district is expecting to receive a donation of $500,000 from a group of currently anonymous individuals. The district pledged $500,000 of its own money to the project that will be used only once the full donations have been received.

The fact that no money has been received prompted a discussion as to what the district should do if the money doesn't arrive.

Schroth said the board may want to consider setting a date when the district would consider rescinding its motion to fund the turf.

Another issue about those funds arose when the board elected to refinance 2003 general obligation bonds. The effort is projected to save the district $74,000 up front and eliminate a spike in the district's debt service in 2018.

However, the motion to approve the turf contribution stated that $200,000 of the cost would come from refinancing those bonds.

In order to deal with these issues, the board decided to revive the turf/stadium committee that had dissolved once the board approved the $500,000 contribution in November.

At the beginning of the meeting, Josephine Cunningham, a teacher in the district and a longtime opponent of the turf project, requested the board consider rescinding its November vote to commit the turf money.

"It would be showing the utmost courage if you re-examined that vote and stepped back from artificial turf," Cunningham said. "In many instances, I've been stopped by members of the public asking how could the board ... pass such a motion."

Cunningham said the project comes at a bad time, as the state government is dealing with a potential $2 billion budget deficit.

The board amended the resolution from the Jan. 12 board meeting pledging the district would not raise taxes above the Act 1 limit. The original motion incorrectly listed the district's Act 1 index as 5.3 percent, and the new motion corrected it to read 4.9 percent, a difference of about 0.4 mills. Business manager Dale Kirsch said the change would not have affected his recommendation that the board doesn't need to raise taxes above the index.

The board also accepted the resignation of John Pappal, the district's supervisor of buildings and grounds, due to retirement, effective May 29. Pappal has worked for the school district for 17 years.

The board also hired Nichole Lychalk as a guidance counselor at East Pike Elementary School at an annual salary of $52,612.

The board also:

• Heard an audit report from a representative from Dennis Kotzan CPA & Associates. The audit found no significant deficiencies and made just a few minor suggestions, including starting an anti-fraud program.

• Approved a list of board operating guidelines, including that any board member who wants something on the agenda request it by the Wednesday before the meeting.

• Heard a request from senior high principal Paula Daskivich to approve a summer school program for 2009 that would include seven courses.

• Accepted the resignation of Dennis Henry, Eisenhower Elementary head custodian.

• Granted extra pay of $1,907.46 to Gretchen Barbor to direct the senior high's third drama show.

• Approved a contract with Steven Barclay Agency for the services of artist Naomi Shihab Nye at a cost of $10,000 plus expenses. The cost will be fully covered by the Artist In Residence program via the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies and a local donation.

• Tabled a decision on whether to have an official audio record of each meeting because of uncertainties regarding the new Pennsylvania Right to Know law.

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