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Homer-Center eyes school security upgrades, stadium master plan

Jeff Himler
| Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Security upgrades planned for Homer-Center School District's elementary and high school buildings could be in place by March, at an estimated cost of $217,200.

Architectural consultant Greer Hayden, of HHSDR in Sharon, presented the planned improvements — including modifications of key building entrances and the addition of security cameras — at the school board's Sept. 19 meeting.

“It's very costly, but it's our duty to keep our students and staff safe,” school board President Vicki Smith said of the project.

Hayden also unveiled a much more costly master plan for potential improvements at the district's Memorial Field football stadium — located at Harrison and Lincoln streets, a short walk from the main school campus.

District Superintendent Charles Koren used the term “sticker shock” to describe his reaction to what Hayden termed a “loose” cost projection of about $1.7 million for a wish list of items at the stadium.

Koren noted that, whatevers upgrades the district decides to make at the athletic facility, they will have to be completed in stages, over time, with support from a public fundraising campaign similar to that used to help pay for the running track next to the high school. Providing handicapped accessibility was cited as a priority at the stadium.

The district has advertised for bids for the security improvements, to be opened on Oct. 14. According to a proposed timeline presented by Hayden, a contract could be awarded at the board's Oct. 17 meeting with construction beginning in January. Board members agreed that the work should be completed during the second shift to minimize disturbance of school operations.

Hayden explained that revamped elementary entrances — at the main office and the district office — would employ intercoms and video cameras, allowing staff in the offices to view and speak with visitors before remotely admitting them first to a vestibule and then to the office — all before they could be granted access to the building's interior hallways.

A rear entrance to the building's kitchen would be set up similarly, except staff would have to manually open a door to admit those making deliveries.

Homer-Center employees would be able to swipe coded ID cards to enter the building.

Installation of four external surveillance cameras is planned at the elementary school to provide views of a rear play area and a gym entrance used frequently after school hours, as well as vehicles as they depart the school campus. Hayden pointed out school administrators can log on through any Internet connection to see live camera views.

At the high school, 21 security cameras are proposed, to monitor various locations including the gym, the cafeteria, areas around the auditorium, stairwells and the courtyard. A system similar to those at the elementary building would be installed to admit visitors to the main high school entrance. Access through other exterior doors – including gym, band room and junior high entrances — would be limited to those with district-issued cards.

Smith questioned the timing of the project expenditures, noting that Pennsylvania has allocated funds to be used for school security improvements, but the money has yet to be disbursed.

“Will we be able to get reimbursed when the money does become available?” she wondered.

School director Gerald Bertig noted the school board last week was taking its first look at estimated costs for an array of possible improvements that are part of a master plan for the football stadium developed with the assistance of a landscape architect from Hollidaysburg.

“This facility was built in the 1940s and we haven't had a lot of investment since then,” he said of Memorial Field. “We have a definite issue with access to the bleachers and the rest rooms.”

While Homer-Center may not pursue all of the items on the stadium wish list, Bertig said the idea was to create a comprehensive plan for the facility so that upgrades made in the short term would not conflict with any future improvements.

Matching dollar amounts to the items in the master plan, Hayden cited the following estimated costs for proposed stadium improvements: handicapped-accessible upgrades for the home bleachers, $45,000; asphalt walkways to the bleachers, $23,000; a new prefabricated concession building with rest rooms, $300,000 plus $95,000 for the foundation and utilities; expansion and conversion of the existing concession stand to create team rooms, $400,000; a new coaches' box, $75,000; a new changing room and rest room for game officials, $35,000; a new entry plaza with fencing and ticket booths, $165,000; VIP parking spaces and a turn-around and drop-off area along Harrison Street, $65,000; a new ticket booth at the south end of the stadium, $20,000; a veterans' memorial, $50,000; new cantilever goal posts, $12,000; new fencing, $26,000.

Bertig noted the Homer City Borough Planning Commission reacted favorably to the various improvements and alterations proposed in the master plan, including moving a fence line to create room for the parking spaces along Harrison Street.

Also last week, school officials noted they are continuing to negotiate with the borough regarding the district's proposal to have Homer City police expand the security services they provide at district extracurricular activities. Koren said the Homer City force currently handles security at football games since Memorial Field is within the borough limits, but the local police department would have to extend its enforcement authorization across the border into Center Township in order to provide a similar service for events on the school campus.

The school board agreed to modify a policy to allow students who reside in the district and are homeschooled to attend a half day of instruction at the Indiana County Technology Center, if eligible. Smith noted each participating family must provide its own transportation to ICTC unless the student comes to the Homer-Center campus to ride a bus with district students.

The school board authorized students in grades 8, 10 and 12 to participate in the 2013 Pennsylvania Youth Survey project, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and students in grades K-6 to take part in an asthma study sponsored by Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Koren noted participation is voluntary and is based on parental consent.

In athletics, the board agreed to end an agreement, at the request of Indiana Area School District, that allowed Homer-Center students to join the neighboring district's wrestling team, a program that H-C lacks. Also, student Emerie Stagner was authorized to represent Homer-Center in PIAA interscholastic swimming, participating individually.

The school board accepted a grant from the ING Run for Something Better program and approved participation in a culminating event of the program — a 2K kids' run set for 10 a.m. Oct. 19 on the local Hoodlebug Trail.

Homer-Center elementary physical education instructor Scott Bauer applied for the grant of between $1,000 and $2,500 that will support a running program of at least eight weeks at the school.

Among a number of field trips the board approved was a Nov. 15 visit by eighth-graders and instructors Tony Buffone and Sarah Fyock to the Challenger Learning Center in Wheeling, W. Va. The students are expected to gain science, math and technology skills by taking part in one of the center's simulated space missions, “Rendezvous with a Comet.” The district will cover costs of $2,576 and will hire two substitutes. The teachers will make another trip to the center on Oct. 23 to train in advance for the program.

Homer-Center is among several local school districts that have demonstrated support for an effort to develop a similar Challenger Center on the grounds of the ICTC.

Homer-Center accepted the resignations of special education teacher Michael R. Gentile Jr., instructional aide Karen Sulkosky, cafeteria worker Carrie Woods and Carol Paynter, secretary to the business manager.

Dana Zenisek was hired as a temporary substitute for Paynter at $11.17 per hour. Connie Miller was hired as a part-time cafeteria worker, starting at a salary of 90 percent of $9.64 per hour, subject to a 90-day probationary period.

Hired for supplemental positions were: Cory Stewart-Leydic, assistant band director, at a salary of $2,457; Shayla Moore, marching band assistant, $1,144; and Mike Arone, junior high boys' basketball coach, $2,256.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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