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Counting down the top dozen Monroeville and Pitcairn stories of 2012

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 8:58 p.m.
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Missy Kovalcin, a third-grade teacher at Propel Pitcairn, talks with Keyshawn Harden, 10, and his brother Cheo Harden, 8. A meet-and-greet session at the school on Aug. 16 brought parents, teachers and students together for the first time before classes started Aug. 20. Photo by Lillian DeDomenic
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Students walk home with family and friends after the first day of school at Propel Pitcairn on Aug. 20, 2012. Evelyn Matsko, left, meets her little brother Aaron, a fourth-grader, after school. Photo by Lillian DeDomenic
UPMC East President Mark Sevco shows a CT scan machine at the new UPMC East Hospital in Monroeville on Thursday May 31, 2012. The facility opened July 2. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
File photo of the UPMC East Hospital in Monroeville.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Jennifer Hoffner, a first-grade teacher at University Park Elementary School, is surprised by her mother and father, Jim and Marla Hoffner of Bluffton, SC., after being awarded a 2012 Milken Educator Award and $25,000 Tuesday from the Milken Family Foundation. The presentation took place at the school during an assembly. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Monroeville Manager Jeff Silka.
Gateway High School football players and supporters of athletic director Terry Smith gathered outside the school's auditorium July 11. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Former Gateway Athletic Director Terry Smith
Nina Zetty poses for a photo on her first day as superintendent of the Gateway School District. Zetty, who comes to the district from the Peters Township School District, started her tenure at Gateway Dec. 3. Lillian Dedomenic | For The times Expresss
The Young Hotel in Pitcairn was closed in August due to safety violations. It has since reopened. By Aaron Loughner | for the Times Express

On the national, international and interplanetary front, 2012 will be remembered as the year that Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast, a shooter massacred 20 children in a Connecticut school, Barack Obama was re-elected and faced the fiscal cliff, Syria dissolved into civil war and Curiosity landed on Mars.

Locally, the past year was no slouch, either. Here's a roundup of the top 12 stories of 2012 in Monroeville and Pitcairn.

12. Young Hotel

An Allegheny County Judge ordered the Young Hotel on Broadway Boulevard be closed in August, after an inspection of the building at noted a defective fire-alarm system,unsafe fire escapes and a structural deficiency.

Tenants were court ordered to vacate the building within seven hours of the judge's ruling.

In addition to being labeled a fire hazard, the apartment building generated 160 calls to police in 2011 and at least 50 calls as of August, borough officials said. The hotel/apartment reopened in the fall after property owner Don Young Jr. proved that he had followed court ordered instructions to address the safety issues.

11. Silka hired

Municipal Manager Jeff Silka was hired in June, five months after former manager Tim Little resigned amidst pressure from a majority of council.

After an interview process that included dozens of applicants, council voted 6-0 to hire Silka at a starting salary of $90,000. Silka, a former executive director of the Somerset County Economic Development Council, has 11 years experience as a community manager, including three years as city manager in Johnstown.

As Johnstown manager, Silka helped maintain arrangements with three local hospitals in which the nonprofit entities made payments to the city in lieu of taxes, which some Monroeville council members have been pressing for in recent years.

10. Hoffner honored

Gateway teacher Jennifer Hoffner was deemed one of the 40 best teachers in the country last month with a surprise presentation of the Milken Educator Award, which included a $25,000 unrestricted check. A first-grade teacher at University Park, Hoffner's energy and enthusiasm for education were cited as reasons for winning the award, which is given to teachers win the early to middle phases of their careers. She was recognized by state officials at a ceremony in Hershey, in addition to both Gateway and Monroeville officials.

9. Lumber proposal

After months of heated debate between neighbors in Turnpike Gardens, Monroeville Council voted unanimously in July to reject a plan to harvest the timber of 316 trees between Point Circle Drive and the turnpike.

Members of a homeowners association that owns the land said their intent was to protect homes and sheds from large, unhealthy trees that potentially could fall over while making room for sunlight to reach younger, healthy trees, but many of their neighbors were opposed to the plan.

About 350 residents signed a petition intended to stop the project. Some accused the homeowner's association of cutting trees for financial gain, while in effect increasing noise from the turnpike and risking landslides when the trees are gone. Some said they feared logging trucks damaging local infrastructure.

An independent geotechnical engineer said the hillside is prone to landslides in certain areas. Municipal law prohibits timbering on areas that are landslide prone. Prior to the council vote, The Monroeville Planning Commission recommended the project be denied with a 6-1 vote.

8. Flood-control plan

After more than 60 years of discussion, a state-run project to prevent flooding in Pitcairn gained momentum this year.

Pending approval from property owners affected by construction, a 6-foot high, concrete channel would guide Dirty Camp Run stream about 1.3 miles from the tennis courts in Sugar Camp Park to Turtle Creek.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald presented a $207,000 check to borough officials at the Nov. 27 council meeting which will be used to help finance the project.

The money initially was issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection to Allegheny County, as reimbursement for a flood-mitigation project completed by county workers at Sugar Camp Park about 10 years ago.

7. Burglaries

A community watch meeting was held in March at Monroeville Fire Co. 4 in response to a rash of burglaries near Haymaker Road.

Burglars were entering through back doors when homeowners were at work or on vacation and stealing mostly jewelry and electronics, police said.

Police Chief Doug Cole said the burglaries probably were committed by people addicted to narcotics, specifically heroin or prescription opiates.

Police and residents discussed neighborhood awareness at the meeting, the effectiveness of home security and a website that residents can log on to that allows them to track the date and location of crimes and report one if necessary.

Monroeville police and neighboring departments have since made arrests connected to local burglaries, while the number of burglaries in neighborhoods near Haymaker Road have decreased considerably.

6. Heroin use

An increase of heroin sales and use — particularly among out-of-towners along the Monroeville business district — in recent years has led to an increase of drug overdoses and drug-related crimes, according to Monroeville police and paramedics.

The number of heroin-related deaths in Allegheny County have increased in recent years, along with the number of overdoses in Monroeville. The narcotic is more potent than ever and more prevalent amongst young adults in middle and upper class neighborhoods, experts said. According to public safety officials, Monroeville is a crossroads for regional drug trafficking because of the town's close proximity to the turnpike, Parkway East and Routes 30 and 48.

5. Petrella quits; Zetty hired

Gateway Superintendent Nina Zetty was hired in September by the Gateway School Board, after former Suprintendent Joe Petrella resigned in April to take a job in Illinois. Zetty was hired on a 4½ year contract with a base salary of $150,000.

Zetty, 53, of Brownsville, previously was the superintendent of Peters Township School District. Under Zetty's leadership, the Peters Township schools ranked 11th academically in the state this year by the Pittsburgh Business Times.

Zetty is leading a plan to advance technology in classrooms and improving state mandated test scores. And after a budget season prior to Zetty being hired, when residents and school directors clashed on a number of issues, Zetty said administrators and school directors are open to ideas from all stakeholders to improve education at Gateway.

4. Finance authority created

In April, municipal officials approved the creation of the Monroeville Finance Authority, which can issue bonds on behalf of any project of nonprofit groups such as hospitals, churches and charities, in exchange for a fee. Then in July, the finance authority issued its first tax-exempt, low-interest bond — it was a $357 million bond on behalf of UPMC, and it was for construction and renovation projects in Monroeville and Pittsburgh. The municipality has since received an initial payment of $120,000, and starting next year, UPMC will pay Monroeville $100,000 annually for 29 years, for the bonds. There is a chance Monroeville could receive additional revenues from both UPMC and the West Penn Allegheny Health System, after County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced this month that county officials are investigating the tax-exempt status of nonprofits in Monroeville and the county.

3. Propel Pitcairn

Propel Pitcairn became the first brick and mortar charter school to open in the Gateway School District when it opened for business at the end of August. Pitcairn officials approved allowing the elementary school to open in the former Pitcairn Elementary Building, after the Gateway School Board voted 5-4 to close Pitcairn Elementary in 2011. Pitcairn residents argued in 2011 that Pitcairn Elementary was the centerpiece of the community, and many said they favored it because its proximity enabled many parents to walk their children to school each day.

School directors who voted to close the school said the closure would save operational costs and potential renovations of the building — which was constructed over a creek — in future years. Newly appointed Gateway School Board President Steve O'Donnell earlier this month said one of his goals is to open a new Gateway Elementary School in Pitcairn. He said the first step is discussing the plan with Pitcairn officials.

2. Terry Smith and the Gateway budget

This year was the most difficult of Gateway football Coach Terry Smith's tenure at Gateway, and that had nothing to do with the performance of his team.

Smith, who also served as athletic director, had his job as AD cut from full-time status to 20 hours a week by the Gateway School Board in June. The board also enacted a policy that prevented athletic directors from serving as coaches to prevent conflicts of interest. After players and Smith supporters complained, that policy was suspended until after the end of the football season.

At the request of district officials, the eligibility of some players who transferred to the district were investigated by WPIAL officials this year. All of the players investigated were cleared to play either by WPIAL or PIAA officials.

The moves were contested by Smith's supporters, who packed the high school auditorium and spoke out in favor of his full-time status. Smith went on to win his 100th game as Gateway coach in fall.

Some school directors said the decision to reduce the athletic director position to part-time status was a financial one. The decision was part of a difficult budget process that resulted in approval of a $65 million 2012-13 school budget that — despite talk of going to a pay-to-play model — preserved the middle school sports program. Although some teachers initially were laid off, all have since been brought back, and all-day kindergarten added within the district. Taxes were increased by 0.83 of a mill for the current budget year.

1. UPMC East

The seven-story, $250 million UPMC East hospital opened in July at the intersection of Mosside Boulevard and William Penn Highway, which municipal officials have said is the second-busiest intersection in the state.

The hospital opened at 5 a.m. July 2, and by early afternoon, doctors had treated 15 patients in its emergency department, performed about a dozen elective surgeries and admitted six patients to some of the 156 private rooms.

Protestors lined the sidewalk on Mosside Boulevard near the hospital entrance on the day it opened. They said the move to close UPMC in Braddock and construct a new hospital less than a mile away from Forbes Regional Hospital was strictly for financial gain, which they said is unethical because of the hospital system's nonprofit status.

Though some criticized UPMC for building a hospital about a mile away from Forbes Regional Hospital — which is owned by rival West Penn Allegheny Health System — UPMC officials have said UPMC Presbyterian and Shadyside hospitals admitted up to 100 patients from the Monroeville area each day.

Having a hospital east of Pittsburgh saves patients time and reduces crowding at those hospitals in Oakland and Shadyside, they countered.

The closeness of the two hospitals highlighted a battle between UPMC and Highmark, the two regional health care giants. West Penn was, at the time, involved with a merger with Highmark.

Even after the merger fell apart, Highmark was continuing with plans to establish an ambulatory surgical center along Monroeville Boulevard.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or

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