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Norwin school board hires fundraiser to develop STEM Center plan

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

The Norwin school board has hired a professional fundraiser to devise a plan to drum up donations for the new STEM Innovation Center the district wants to build.

The school board recently authorized a $142,200 contract with Bob Carter Companies Fundraising & Philanthropy, based in Sarasota, Fla., to develop a three-phase fundraising plan, according to a proposal the company submitted to the district.

“Bob Carter Companies is a well-known firm that has done a lot of work with educational institutions and nonprofits in western Pennsylvania,” said Jonathan Szish, district spokesman.

Szish said the primary reason for hiring a professional fundraiser is to avoid raising taxes to build the new science, technology, engineering and math center, which is expected to cost between $9.6 million and $10.6 million.

“The district believes that if higher education can be successful through development efforts, public education can do the same, largely because this is the wave of the future for fiscal sustainability of school districts,” he said.

In addition to charitable donations, construction of the two-story, 36,000-square-foot building on the district's North Huntingdon campus will be built with government grants.

District officials have applied for about $5.5 million in grants for which they believe the project is eligible, Szish said.

Superintendent William Kerr said soliciting donations for a construction project is new.

“Fundraising and philanthropy are new approaches for K-12 education,” he said. “It's a paradigm shift in the way we think, the way we must operate. And we're optimistic this can be accomplished given the extraordinary interest in STEM education.”

Steve Higgins, a Fox Chapel native and senior vice president for Bob Carter Companies, said the firm sees Norwin's STEM project as “a very unique opportunity that we believe will get some real traction from the community as well as the region.”

“The STEM innovation center will be an exceptional resource for students and employers in southwestern Pennsylvania, and as a result will become a model for many other school districts to try to emulate,” Higgins said. “We are excited to have the opportunity to assist Norwin in fulfilling this grand vision.”

Construction could begin as early as 2015, according to the architect's estimates.

The fundraising proposal submitted to the district calls for the company to spend the first three months of an 18-month-long process focusing on the development of a fundraising plan, Higgins said.

“We'll be holding extensive meetings with the school board, the STEM center steering committee and community and corporate leaders to determine a target amount for the district's fundraising efforts as well identifying prospective donors,” he said.

The second phase, which is expected to last about nine months, will involve activities such as training campaign volunteers, preparing a “public launch” of the campaign and overseeing solicitations from top donors, Higgins said.

The final phase, which will take six months, will be used to review and revise the campaign and develop a plan for continued fundraising for the school district.

Maura Farrell, associate head for external affairs for the private Winchester Thurston school in Shadyside, which hired Carter when he was with Ketchum, said it can be “helpful to have outside counsel.”

“Bob Carter has extensive experience working with education institutions and was able to help us develop a strategy for fundraising,” she said.

In addition to Winchester Thurston, the company lists some two dozen local clients including Pitt, Carlow, Chatham, Duquesne, LaRoche, Point Park and Robert Morris universities, as well as non-profits such as the Children's Home of Pittsburgh, Phipps Conservatory, and the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or tlarussa@tribweb.com

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