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Norwin officials develop timeline for sci-tech education center

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By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Norwin school officials on Monday laid out a timeline for a proposed STEM Innovation Center as they threw support behind a state plan that could funnel money to the project.

Officials envision a learning and conference center on the North Huntingdon campus that would focus on the disciplines of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

Over the next several months, administrators will continue to plan for the center by meeting with local government and education leaders to discuss public-private partnerships. Meetings are scheduled with the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp., the Norwin Chamber of Commerce and a representative from the governor's office, among others.

Throughout this year, officials expect to conduct a feasibility study, begin discussions for business plan recommendations and kick off fundraising and grant procedures, according to a schedule presented Monday by Superintendent William Kerr.

“We have a lot of work cut out for us,” Kerr said.

Norwin officials anticipate that the center could be built without tax dollars and would instead rely on business-education partnerships. The center is aimed at preparing students for 21st-century jobs.

Kerr sent a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett and state Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township; Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen; and Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield thanking the governor for his proposal to increase public education funding through the Passport for Learning Educational Block Grant.

The block grant, which is a result of the governor's liquor privatization proposal, would send to Norwin an additional $2.9 million over a four-year period beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

The one-time money could be used for four specific programs, including STEM, early learning and school safety.

“Your vision to boost STEM education in the secondary grades is right in line with Norwin School District's recent proposal to build a ‘Norwin STEM Innovation Center' on our school campus,” Kerr wrote in the letter.

“We believe this new facility at Norwin will help equip students for high-tech jobs of the future.”

Kerr told school board members he's looking at the funds “strictly from an educational standpoint” and leaving the debate over where the money comes from up to the governor and legislators.

“I don't believe we can turn our back on the fact that there's $2.9 million out there possibly,” he said.

The governor's proposal is expected to generate $1 billion in additional revenue for schools statewide.

The majority of board members endorsed Kerr's letter of support.

Director Dennis Rittenhouse expressed doubt about the state plan.

“In the end, it's not going to be the $2.9 million,” Rittenhouse said. “I'm skeptical on that. … Let's just see where the cards fall.”

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or rskena@tribweb.com.

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