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McKeesport Area breaks ground for its new Sixth Grade Academy

| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 1:36 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Representatives of PJ Dick and JC Pierce join McKeesport Area School District board members and administrators in breaking ground for the Sixth Grade Academy addition to Founders Hall Middle School.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
This artist's rendering of the Sixth Grade Academy addition planned for Founders Hall was on display during Friday's ceremonial groundbreaking for the project.

McKeesport Area School District officials and project leaders on Friday broke ground on the new Sixth Grade Academy, also known as the Founders' Hall Annex, at Founders Hall Middle School.

Construction is projected to start by the end of the month and be completed by December 2014.

“It will be great having our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders together and being a true middle school,” Superintendent Rula Skezas said.

Skezas said the new academy will have the latest classroom technology.

“It's going to be like a school within a school,” she said. “All of our sixth- through 12th-graders will be on one campus, which I think is great.”

Sixth-graders now attend classes at the former White Oak Elementary. They will be moved to the academy when it is completed.

Architect Ryan Pierce of JC Pierce LLC said the two-story academy on Eden Park Boulevard will be 45,000 square feet and have a basement.

It will contain 16 classrooms, one life-skills room, a large faculty space, a large group instruction room, a dedicated science lab, and two small group instruction rooms. The basement level will have a semi-finished wrestling practice room and locker rooms.

Total project costs are slightly less than $15 million, and include upgrades to the existing middle school.

Renovations will include air conditioning, corridor wall protection and construction of new locker rooms in the main gymnasium.

“This is a great day for us,” said project manager Joseph Brennan of PJ Dick Inc. “We're excited to get started. There's four great contractors, all of which I've worked with on previous projects. It's going to turn things around in this area. My understanding is McKeesport's trying to go through a revitalization, and this will be a good kick off, as well as the Twin Rivers project that we're working on.”

Twin Rivers Primary and Intermediate are the other new schools the district is building at 1600 and 1602 Cornell St. to consolidate elementary classes. They may be open by January.

Kindergartners through second-graders registered for the new elementary, including those from Versailles, now attend classes at the former Centennial Elementary School at 1601 Beaver St.

Third- through fifth-graders registered for the new intermediate school attend classes at the former George Washington School at 1818 Sumac St.

“When this program is complete, the district will have reduced its number of buildings dramatically, but will have newer upgraded space for all of the students in grades K-8,” Pierce said. “This is going to make the K-8 facilities for this district state of the art.”

School directors unanimously awarded bids for the Founders' Hall addition/renovation project in August.

Bids were awarded to Gurtner Construction for general construction at $8,685,000, A-1 Electric for electrical construction at $1,294,000, R&B Mechanical for mechanical construction at $3,510,000, and Wheels Mechanical for plumbing construction at $885,500.

The awards are subject to appropriate PlanCon approvals, the issuance of all applicable permits, compliance with Act 34 requirements and review by district solicitor Gary Matta.

PlanCon, or planning and construction workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for state reimbursement.

Act 34 requires that a public hearing be held on all new construction and substantial additions for second-, third- and fourth-class school districts. It applies only to costs for new construction, and the hearings are to inform the public of the proposed project.

The district had two Department of Education-required hearings for the academy. The second one was for a projected increase in project costs.

Skezas and school board president Patricia Maksin credited former superintendent Timothy Gabauer for moving the projects forward in lieu of an earlier plan to construct a third new school when talk of consolidation started in 2007.

“He felt that the next-best solution for us was to put an addition (at Founders' Hall) to accommodate our sixth grade,” Maksin said. “We could do our K-5 in the two (new) buildings in January. (Gabauer) was the one that spearheaded this. He and Dr. Skezas went round and round and made sure that it was feasible.”

Maksin said that brought the school directors on board.

“We knew this was going to be a much better solution than building a whole new building,” she said.

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

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