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$4 Million price tag placed on United sports project

| Sunday, May 6, 2012, 4:31 p.m.

ARMAGH--United School District is considering spending up to $4 million to enhance its outdoor athletic facilities.

That's the high-end cost for installing an all-weather track, a locker room/concession building, lights and an updated press box and bleachers at Madill Stadium, and for developing a new baseball field across Rt. 56 from the high school complex.

Also figured into the proposed project are added parking and practice areas and regrading for a new walkway linking the high school and the stadium.

While officials outlined the project at Tuesday's school board meeting, the public will have the chance to learn more about it and comment on it at a special session Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.

The school board is expected to vote on seeking project bids at its regular November meeting. To avoid a conflict with the general election, that meeting has been moved to Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m.

Bids would be awarded in February, with construction proceeding in March or April.

According to Nathan Rock, who chairs the board's facilities committee, the proposal's planning process begun early in 2004.

Construction of the first phase--improvements to the high school gym, auditorium and cafeteria--began in summer 2004.

Rock feels that the next phase of im-provements is needed to keep pace with other schools. "We should provide our students the best facilities possible," he said.

According to Rock, the track at the stadium is in poor shape, as is the existing baseball diamond, due to drainage problems.

United's ball field would be converted to a practice field and a new baseball facility would be built near the closed water treatment plant, with 30 to 40 parking spaces.

Rock said improvements at the football stadium will address deficiencies in safety--including broken bleacher boards--and handicapped access. He indicated the new stadium building, with rest rooms, would be twice the size of the existing structure.

While agreeing that the track upgrade is overdue, Norma Little-Carpenter asked if other athletic improvements could be pursued "piecemeal" instead of in a big project.

Rock said he favors "addressing all our needs in one big lump. Then we don't have to worry about it for 15 to 20 years."

He said delaying the work will only add to the cost. He pointed out the project price tag increased by at least $200,000 over the past year.

Little-Carpenter questioned the need for lights, noting Saturday afternoon grid games have been a tradition at United.

Rock replied that lights would make scheduling more flexible, noting homecoming and senior day games could be moved to the evening. But "We wouldn't have to have all the games at night."

Rock said the intent is to make the new track available to local citizens for walking or jogging. Little-Carpenter remarked that the track should remain open to the public after dusk if lights are included.

On Tuesday, the board will hold a special session in the high school library, to select an architect for the project.

Two finalists are Robert T. Scheeren of Indiana, who handled the recent Phase I improvements for United, and HHSDR of Butler, which has worked on Homer-Center and Blairsville-Saltsburg projects.

The two firms will make formal presentations to the board, beginning at 6:30 p.m., with a vote slated for 9 p.m.

Board members also are planning to visit sports facilities at nearby districts--including Homer-Center, Penns Manor, Purchase Line, Windber, Richland and Highlands.

Turning to academic matters, Superintendent Rick Huffman noted that, according to data from the state Department of Education, United has achieved annual yearly progress goals for the third year in a row--based on such factors as standardized test results and school attendance. A detailed report card, indicating just how well United measured up to No Child Left Behind guidelines in the 2004-05 school year, won't be available until Oct. 28.

Huffman noted 60 percent of students who took state assessment tests last year met proficiency levels in math, while 68 percent were proficient in reading. In classroom-based assessments, 72 percent of students received 'A' or 'B' letter grades.

Also, United students scored an average of 880 on the SAT college board exams, compared to the state average of 910.

Huffman said 96 percent of United students graduated, with 32 percent enrolling in a four-year post-secondary program, 20 percent in a two-year program and two percent in the military.

Average class sizes range from 18 students, in grades K-3, to 25 students, in grades 7 and 8. The district spends $11,510 per student.

Of United's 8,269 residents, only 63 percent are high school graduates and 12 percent have post-secondary training. The av-erage income is $31,607 and the average home value is $64,000; 12 percent of households falling within poverty guidelines.

New additions at the high school include an AP chemistry course, a robotics course and an industrial laser which students in the technology lab will use to create camera-ready etchings and drawings.

Also, parents now can go online to check on their students' class assignments.

In personnel matters, the board accepted the resignation of elementary reading teacher Kathryn L. Huston. The 35-year veteran is planning to retire Dec. 23.

Ken Steinmiller was appointed as a technical aide in the agriculture department, at $10 per hour. Chris Matava was appointed as weight room advisor, for $1,150.

Board President Tammie Shetler was appointed as the acting alternate representative to the Indiana County Technology Center for the 2005-06 school year.

Shetler and Tina Allman were approved as voting delegates to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Legislative Policy Council meeting this month in Hershey.

Tammi Jo James, Elizabeth Bracken, Stephanie Allison and Tammy Slippy were approved as kindergarten volunteers.

Marcie A. Burket will serve as a volunteer assistant to United band director Richard Auvil. Volunteer coaching assignments include Norma Little-Carpenter, with the varsity basketball program, and Tyler Stokes and Robert Toman, with the seventh grade boys' basketball program.

Jeffrey Hedges, who chairs the board's negotiations committee, expressed hope United directors soon may consider a tentative agreement with the district's support staff union, which has been working without a new contract since mid-summer.

Little headway had been made for months during talks between the sides. And relations weren't helped by the district's recent decision to transfer custodial positions to an outside contractor, many with a cut in pay.

But Hedges said a breakthrough occurred at the most recent Oct 6 session, when the sides decided to proceed without their respective professional negotiators.

"We had a very pleasant, meaningful dialogue," he said. "If everything works well, we may have something for the board in November."

Also on Tuesday, United approved 14 community outreach courses which will be offered at the district, beginning next week. Topics include introductory dance, drawing, woodworking, Microsoft computer programs and car maintenance, as well as crafts, wildflowers, bobbin lace, math games and yoga. To sign up or get more information, call 1-888-446-5615 X 301.

United approved use of a large 84-passenger bus from district transportation contractor Krise Bus Service, to carry 65 students from the district to the Indiana County Technology Center.

Huffman said the additional cost of the bus, $25 per day or $4,400 per year, will be less than that of using two smaller buses.

Also, a van was approved to transport a special needs student to and from work at the McDonald's in Blairsville. Huffman explained the work experience is part of the student's individual education plan.

Several donations were accepted for the purchase of library books in memory of late elementary music instructor Dave Drummond. Kelli Griffith, Joanne Weigel, Kerri Miller and Donna Meyer combined to donate $600; Mitchell DeRubis and fifth grade student Kylie Wolfe each contributed $25.

Also, the PTG group donated $300, which the elementary student council will use to purchase ribbons for Red Ribbon Week.

Elementary Principal Patricia Berezansky commended her students for collecting more than $700, food and more than 1,500 school supply items benefiting schoolchildren displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The collection was the idea of Armagh resident Carol Foster, whose sister-in-law, United alumna Jenny Voytas Foster, teaches in Baton Rouge, La. The school is in need of supplies for the extra students it is taking in from storm-ravaged New Orleans.

Carol Foster was planning to haul the items south in her family vehicle. But the response has been so great that officials are trying to arrange for other transportation.

High School Assistant Principal Aaron Steinly noted the next event in the school's year-long 50th anniversary celebration is intended strictly for members of the school's first graduating class.

Those attending the Nov. 5 program will be treated to luncheon, dedication of new courtyard landscaping and a preview of the school play, "The Beverly Hillbillies."

A centerpiece of the courtyard will be a large lion sculpture carved by elementary art teacher Barry Poglein.

Elementary wrestling sign-ups will be held Wednesday and Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the elementary library.

Elementary tournament team practices will be held in the elementary gym on Fridays, 6 to 9 p.m., beginning in January.

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