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Baldwin gymnasium to get air conditioning by May

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Cooler temperatures are coming to the Baldwin High School gymnasium, likely by spring.

School board members, in an 8-1 vote at their Feb. 12 meeting, awarded a contract to R&B Mechanical of Pleasant Hills for $258,000 to install air conditioning in the high school gymnasium.

Board member Karen Brown dissented.

District officials said they hope to have the project completed by May, so that it does not interfere with programs such as the Special Olympics or, if needed, graduation — if snow days continue to pile up and a rain date is unavailable.

“Unfortunately, if the weather continues the way it is, we might need to push graduation. ... I'm not saying we are,” Superintendent said Randal Lutz, nothing that if that were to happen, there always is the possibility that instead of a rain date, if the weather is detrimental, the ceremony could be moved indoors.

The district already has used all three of its built-in makeup days because of snow days during this cold, snowy winter, the superintendent said. Finding additional days in the calendar would be tricky, he said during the board's agenda meeting on Feb. 5.

The district has 182 days scheduled for students in kindergarten through 11th grade. Seniors have 180 days scheduled, Lutz said.

Brown questioned if now is the right time to add air conditioning to the high school gymnasium because school officials are planning to spend money to upgrade security — by adding vestibules and new entry ways — at the elementaries and middle school.

Board member Martin Michael Schmotzer said the district has the money to do both because it has a $15 million fund balance.

Board member Patricia Nixon questioned if the lack of air conditioning would create a potential liability for the district.

“My concern is if we have an event in this facility, and somebody becomes ill or dies — let's take a Special Olympics child, for example, who can't sweat because that's their condition. OK, we have them die, we have someone seriously injured because we don't have air conditioning, do we want to have the liability?” Nixon asked.

“I don't think anybody wants anybody to be ill because we haven't properly designed the facility.”

Conference issue

Baldwin-Whitehall School Board members last week debated if district athletic director Vince Sortino followed the right procedures — or even knew about them — when he went to the National Athletic Directors Conference in Anaheim, Calif., in December and spent $1,300 on the trip.

Employees are required to fill out a form requesting out-of-state travel and give it to their first-level supervisor, typically a principal, Lutz said. That form then goes to the assistant superintendent and then the superintendent for permission.

Lutz said he found out about the trip only days before in a personal conversation with the athletic director.

Board members voted in 2012 to change the district procedure for out-of-state travel, but it is unknown if employees were made fully aware of the changes, board members and administrators said.

“I think it's actually crazy that we're sitting here debating the actions of one employee when it's apparently evident at multiple levels that there was a failure to communicate a policy change to the employees,” board President Larry Pantuso said. “Nobody has asked yet, how are we doing it now, where is the written policy going forward.”

Board members voted 5-4 to pay for Sortino's travel expenses for the trip to California, with Brown, Diana Kazour, Tracy Macek and David Solenday dissenting.

“I just find it hard to believe that a professional member of the staff would leave to go to a conference across the country and not tell anybody,” Brown said.

Schmotzer, who spoke highly of Sortino, questioned why this was an issue.

“What is this controversy? What is this made-up negativity that this board ... that we have to engage in here?” Schmotzer asked.

Pantuso said it all goes back to the district's procedures.

He requested that the policy and signatures from every district employee stating they've been made aware of the change be given to the board at its next meeting.

“If we don't have it, I'm OK with that because that's another problem then that needs to be addressed,” Pantuso said.

Unusual donation

Peer tutoring at Baldwin High School is getting a little extra support, thanks to a donation from the owner of a local pop and beer warehouse.

“It might be a little unusual to think about a school district getting a donation from a beer warehouse,” Lutz said when he explained the $5,000 donation from Duffy's Pop and Beer Warehouse on Curry Hollow Road to the board members last week.

The owner of Duffy's is a supporter of the district, Lutz said, and wanted to give the funds to support peer tutoring at the high school by providing incentives for students to get involved.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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