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Mon Valley School opens diverse outdoor physical development area

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 12:56 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Matthew Gray, 16, takes a ride on the wheelchair swing at Mon Valley School's new outdoor physical development area in Jefferson Hills. He is surrounded by student Damien Meyers, teachers Mike Harrison and Ben Latini and vice principal Rich Dowell.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Mon Valley School in Jefferson Hills celebrates the grand opening of its new outdoor physical development area Friday morning. Principal Jack Tachoir and the Mustang cheerleaders took part in the opening ceremony.
submitted photo
Mon Valley students and teachers install and level one of the balance beams for the outdoor physical development area. They have been working on this project since September. The grand opening was Friday morning.

Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Mon Valley School's new outdoor area is much more than a playground.

Officials cut the ribbon Friday morning opening the educational facility's physical development area designed for students with special needs.

“It's been a year-long project. We hope it is just a starting point, that we can continue to add pieces of equipment through the years,” principal Jack Tachoir said. “In planning the outdoor area, we wanted to ensure it would be utilized by the majority of our students.”

The school at 555 N. Lewis Run Road in Jefferson Hills serves 260 full- and part-time students from kindergarten through age 21.

The area features various balance beams and horizontal ladders, a funnel ball play area, a seesaw and several different types of swing sets including one adapted for wheelchairs. All that equipment was purchased through funds raised at a crafts show.

“It's more than just recreation and leisure,” Tachoir said. “It's skills for our kids ... learning social skills for our students and language development for our students. Those are two big areas. This will give them the opportunity to come out and interact with each other.”

Students enrolled in Building and Grounds, and Industrial Production and Maintenance vocational classes helped build the structures, dig holes, and mix concrete, among other jobs. The project started in September.

Chris Parada, 17, said he learned construction and landscaping skills through the project.

“I'm happy,” Chris said as he looked over the area.

“I dug the holes for the sign and the benches,” said Robbie Gibson, 15. “We helped out with the swings and put hay down for the grass. I really (didn't) know how to do this. This is my first time. The one thing I like to do is dig holes and help out with the grounds, help out around the neighborhood and stuff. I think they're having fun. We've been waiting for this for (a long time). I used the cement mixer and shovels.”

Building and Grounds instructor Mike Harrison said students learned about site excavation and planning prior to putting in physical labor.

“As soon as the school year hit we hit the ground running,” Harrison said. “It's amazing. I think they're not only learning skills about the construction areas and things of that sort, but they're learning about life skills that they need to use. It's great to see them learn and see them do different things. Sometimes people don't give them a chance, and it's great to see them succeed and see them now smiling and having a feeling of accomplishment.”

“This project gives them a really good hands-on authentic work experience,” IPM instructor Ben Latini said. “They can kind of realize and understand that this is what it's like in the real world. Whether it be excavating, pouring and mixing the concrete, layout of the site, erecting the swings itself, everything. This has just been an awesome project for the students. I think they really enjoyed it.”

Paraprofessionals Shelly Marecic and Donna Jugan assisted Harrison and Latini with the students.

Taylor Rental Center provided the heavy machinery. The school also received donations from Home Depot, Taylor Rental, Green Circle, Scotts and Quikrete.

“This really adds to our outdoor areas,” Tachoir said. “We have an outdoor basketball court. We have a nature trail with an outdoor classroom that these two vocational areas built and maintained. We have miniature golf holes that these vocational areas have built. This is our crown jewel right here, no doubt about it. This has been a dream since I started here.”

Tachoir served Mon Valley School for the past seven years and plans to retire at the end of the year.

Harrison said the development area is about 4 acres, and only 1 acre has been used so far.

“We want to see what type of things are the most utilized and favored,” Tachoir said. “We would like to get some type of slide ... The kids have already asked about the slides.”

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or