Group battles Peebles Elementary closing
By Rick Wills
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 8:56 p.m.
With the North Allegheny School Board poised to take public comment on whether to close Peebles Elementary School, opponents are galvanizing to prevent it.
A group of parents and taxpayers calling themselves “Save NA Schools” are flooding the district's website, sending emails to the media, residents and school board members, and turning up at board meetings to protest any attempt to close Peebles.
They say a consultant's report recommending the closure ignores the fact that Bradford Woods Elementary needs $14 million of repairs, while Peebles does not.
Many group members are opposed to closing any schools.
“At the end of the day, what the board says does just not add up. Their actions with the school closings make no sense,” said Daneen Leya of McCandless, a mother of students in the district and a member of Save NA Schools.
Raymond Gualtieri, North Allegheny's superintendent, recommended closing Peebles to save $850,000. The district faces a $10 million deficit for the 2013-14 school year, he warned in November.
Yet a consultant's report says it would be more economical to close Bradford Woods. School board president Maureen Grosheider questions estimates in the report of the cost to repair Bradford Woods. The study is one of two commissioned by district. The second recommends closing Peebles.
“After the first study, the numbers for renovations just seemed excessive. The question became, ‘Are those numbers really real?' ” Grosheider said.
The board will hold the public hearing on Peebles on Jan. 30. A time and location have not been set. A board vote could come within 90 days of the hearing.
Ralph Pagone, one of two board members who voted last month against having a hearing, said the district is rushing the process.
“We are moving too fast. There are conflicting studies. The board did not like the first study and got a study that told them what they wanted to hear. They do not seem to be paying much attention to the public,” Pagone said.
The initial report from Architectural Innovation of Ross recommended closing Bradford Woods and keeping Peebles open. The board's majority favors a study by Jon Thomas of Thomas & Williamson construction consulting firm, also of Ross, which recommends closing Peebles.
James Construction Co. sued Thomas & Williamson and the school district over renovation work at North Allegheny in the late 1990s. James won damages of $524,087 from the district in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
“The fact that the district had a recommendation from 12 experts to close a school with $14 million in repairs and commissioned a ‘second opinion' from Jon Thomas is very suspect. Especially when you consider Mr. Thomas recommended closing a school with no repair costs and Judge (Timothy P.) O'Reilly concluded he acted in ‘bad faith' the last time he served as a consultant for North Allegheny. This all begs the question: What was the real motivation in hiring Mr. Thomas?” said Tara Fisher, a parent of a Peebles student.
Jon Thomas could not be reached on Wednesday.
Pagone questioned the decision as well. “I am concerned with the outcome of that lawsuit. The findings were not good.”
Grosheider said Thomas has a record of success with the district.
“Mr. Thomas has done work for the district for many years, in many capacities. We have always had good results.”
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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