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United lays groundwork for planned high school renovations

Jeff Himler
| Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, 1:36 p.m.

United School District is taking initial steps to prepare for planned renovations at its high school building.

At its Oct. 8 meeting, the school board approved related work proposals from the Pittsburgh firm of McIlvried, DiDiano and Fox and from Wexford-based environmental consultant AGX Inc.

The Pittsburgh company will provide survey services to the district, at a cost not to exceed $5,700, to ensure any construction completed at the high school does not stray beyond district property lines.

AGX will charge up to $3,550 to conduct a pre-design survey of asbestos materials at the school. The company additionally will charge up to $3,000 to provide asbestos abatement specifications and drawings for the school. There could be extra charges for any additional work AGX would undertake in relation to the high school project.

United officials are considering renovations to create improved security entrances at the school, which would include relocating the high school and administrative offices.

In a separate motion, the school board authorized AGX to provide a three-year asbestos re-inspection and management plan update for both the district's high school and its elementary building, and to prepare a report summarizing its findings, for a cost of $750. Any additional work required because of the inspection will be charged to the district.

The district recently unveiled its newly remodeled elementary school but last week took care of some remaining business related to the project. A change order was approved in a contract with Mid-State Construction, for replacement of the elementary gym floor, as that part of the project came in under budget. The district was credited for $14,985 that did not have to be expended.

In other ongoing maintenance matters, United approved a one-year agreement with Cummins Bridgeway LLC of New Hudson, Mich., to provide planned maintenance of generators at the district's two schools and at its football stadium, at a cost of $1,641.19.

Also, Eastern Elevator Service and Sales Company will provide repair service, upon request, for the elevator located in each of the two school buildings. The company will charge $148 per hour if only one worker is required to provide the service or $250 per hour for team labor.

In personnel matters, the school board approved, with regret, the retirement on Jan. 20 of learning support teacher Marilyn Nesmith, who has served the district for 16 years. The district will seek to hire a replacement after posting and advertising the position.

Becca Shaffer was hired as a long-term substitute for first-grade teacher Erin Staruch, who was approved for an unpaid leave of absence of up to 12 weeks.

The school board approved a formal five-year contract with Gerald Thomas Kalinyak, who came on board Aug. 19 as the district's director of finance. Board President Don Davis indicated Kalinyak will receive a starting salary of $89,000 with subsequent annual increases of 3 percent, based on satisfactory job performance.

Teachers Vicki Stelma, Ellen Plowman and Patricia Sexton were approved to each provide homebound instruction for a secondary-school student at a rate of $36 per hour.

The board authorized Kalinyak to prepare specifications and a request for proposals for school bus transportation services, noting the district's contract with its current transportation provider — Krise Bus Lines, operating under Student Transportation of America — is set to expire at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

United appointed the Altoona law firm of Fanelli Willett as the district's labor counsel at an hourly rate of $155. Davis said United switched to the new law firm in order to continue working with attorneys that previously assisted the district when they were part of the Andrews and Beard firm.

Davis noted United soon will be looking to negotiate a new contract with its teachers.

The school board scheduled three curriculum and instruction committee meetings through December to tackle specific topics of discussion. Each session will begin at 6 p.m.

On Oct. 29, the committee will focus on the high school “delivery system” — “how we deliver instruction and how many periods there are in a day,” Davis explained.

Specifically, the panel will explore a nine-period school day, looking at such items as staffing, possible course realignments, elective offerings, the district's study hall policy, inclusion of special needs students, remedial instruction and a plan for possibly introducing the changed periods in the 2014-15 school year.

On Nov. 12, the committee will focus on elementary reading. Topics will include data resulting from testing, an overview of reading curriculum, impact of federal Title I at the elementary school and administrative recommendations for addressing areas of concern.

On Dec. 10, the committee will look at possible upgrades to the district website — including design and layout — that could be launched before the start of the 2014-15 school year. Resulting staff training also will be considered.

The district accepted a supplemental state Career and Technology Education grant of $15,143.14. The grant will allow the addition of a tungsten inert gas welder for United's vo-ag department, superintendent Barbara Parkins noted.

The district accepted donation of student dictionaries — one for each third-grade student — from the Indiana Rotary. Also, a book titled “Easy Money (By Alaska's First Mail-Lady)” will be donated to the high school library in memory of former rural mall carrier Shirley Hill, by her grandchildren.

United approved an agreement with the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) Data System to access its web-based benchmark and progress monitoring reporting platform for a fee of $1 per student per year.

The district also approved an Automated Clearing House Services agreement with CBIZ Payroll Services and signed a letter of agreement with Meadows Psychiatric Center/Univeral Community Behavior Health to have the latter provide educational services for a district student at a cost of $30 per hour.

United additionally approved an agreement with Thought Process Enterprises that will allow the company to post advertising on the district's website through Dec. 31, 2014. The district would receive 5 percent of the revenue generated by the advertising.

Davis stressed that district officials can turn down any advertising content that they deem inappropriate for the website.

Other area districts have approved similar deals with the advertising company.

In athletics, the school board approved a one-year agreement with the Altoona Mountain Ice Hockey Association that will allow junior-high eligible United students to compete in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League's open division for the 2013-14 school year. So far, one United student has expressed interest in participating in the program.

The board granted Alumni Football USA and its representative, Robert Bishop, permission to use the high school stadium and locker room facilities to stage a game at 7 p.m.. Nov. 2 between alumni of the United and former Laurel Valley high school football programs.

Those planning to attend the game were urged to purchase tickets in advance at United High School as the district will collect a larger cut of those advance sales.

This will be the third in a series of games between the respective alumni teams. School board member Robert Lichtenfels noted the first game ended in a tie while the United alumni defeated their Laurel Valley counterparts, 27-6, in last year's game.

Thomas and Kathleen Whitcomb were granted permission to attend the state cross country meet Nov. 1 and 2 in Hershey providing district athletes qualify for the event. There would be a combined cost to the district of $1,290.

Adviser Michael Lee and 20 members of United's Robotics Club received permission to take part in the Pittsburgh FRC Regional Robotics Competition March 26-29, at no cost to the district.

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

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