McKeesport school building projects progressing

| Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 4:51 a.m.

McKeesport Area School District is making progress in building construction with visible strides on the Twin Rivers Primary/Intermediate grounds and paper pushing for the addition of a Sixth Grade Academy onto Founders' Hall Middle School.

District officials toured Twin Rivers — the K-5 building that is taking shape on the former site of Cornell Middle School — on Wednesday afternoon for a firsthand progress report, then attened an Act 34 hearing and special meeting about the next big project.

Twin Rivers is set for completion before students return from winter break in 2014, and construction at Founders' Hall is set to begin next month.

Originally planned to open with the 2014-15 school year, the Sixth Grade Academy at Founders' Hall was the solution to a nixed elementary alignment plan that would have divided all students in kindergarten through sixth grade into three primary/intermediate buildings. With the elimination of plans for a third school, the board majority instead went with a two-building K-5 plan at Francis McClure and Twin Rivers and moved sixth-graders to a separate wing on the district middle school.

That addition, which was subject to a public hearing and approval earlier this year, came back to the board on Wednesday night because of increased estimated cost.

The Act 34 maximum building cost based on bids is $9,178,592, and the maximum project cost based on bids is $17,085,078. That is a jump from the original estimated building construction cost of $7,656,756 and estimated maximum project cost of $14,486,088. The project cost includes hard cost for new construction and renovations, site work and soft costs.

“The total was exceeded by more than 8 percent with the actual bids, necessitating a second Act 34 public hearing,” architect Ryan Pierce of JC Pierce LLC explained.

The project is expected to impact district property tax rates by 1.097 mills.

When the construction plan documents — PlanCon Parts D, E, F and G — for Founders' Hall came up for a vote during a special meeting that followed the hearing, directors Chris Halaszynski and Steve Kondrosky Sr. voted against them. Directors Joe Lopretto and Mark Holtzman were absent.

Because the board majority had five votes in favor of the construction plan and its projected millage impact, Halaszynski and Kondrosky said their “no” votes were in protest with no real threat of stopping the project.

“It's against what we have been talking about since day one,” Kondrosky said. “Raising taxes would impact every household in the district. This whole project started out at about $7 million and ended up at about $17 million.”

While the project cost increased over time with discussions about improvements to the existing Founders' Hall facilities — not simply an addition — they said years of planning for realignment and construction should have been planned better from the get-go.

“I'm just tired of wasted spending with no one blinking at it,” Halaszynski said. “We spend millions like we're at a penny candy store.”

Scott Smith, a cross-filed nominee for school board in November's general election, shared concern that the project time line will be extended far past its original deadline of August 2014.

“Now that we've had our second Act 34 hearing, this now has to go to the state again,” Smith said. “How does that impact the start of the project schedule as well as the completion?”

While the estimated completion date was set back to October 2014 prior to the solicitation of bids, Superintendent Timothy Gabauer said the new date likely will not be affected by the need for a second Act 34 hearing and subsequent green light from the state.

Despite disagreements over Founders' Hall, there remains an enthusiasm for the Twin Rivers project.

Gabauer said the new building will be an impressive place for teachers and students.

“With the conditions they've been in ... I sense the excitement they're going to have,” Gabauer said. “They are in places where it's hot or there might be paint peeling. They're going to come in to an absolutely gorgeous building ... A new, bright building changes everything.”

The intermediate wing is roughly 95 percent complete. Walls and color-coded door thresholds are painted. Lighting fixtures and classroom white boards are in place. Restrooms are complete without fixtures.

The primary wing is nearly enclosed and ready for drywall. Furniture bids are set to be approved during next week's board meeting.

“When the parents come in, they will know that their children have the same facilities and opportunities as other places, if not better,” Gabauer said.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or

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