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State Sen. Ward seeks $2.5M for STEM center in Norwin

| Saturday, April 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

State Sen. Kim Ward requested $2.5 million in state funds for the proposed Norwin STEM Innovation Center — a learning and conference facility that would focus on the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.

The state-of-the-art facility is envisioned for Norwin School District's North Huntingdon campus.

Ward, a Hempfield Republican, said she drafted the request from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program after speaking with Norwin officials.

“I think that a private-public project such as this one, which will put education tools in the hands of our students ... has a lot of value pertaining to our future economic growth,” Ward said. “It's a strong program.”

Ward, who serves as chairwoman of the Senate's manufacturing caucus, said she often hears manufacturers bemoan a dearth of workers.

“All you need to do is go ... and tour these facilities,” Ward said. “Every one of them time and again say we need workers. ... A project such as this could really help.”

Norwin officials have emphasized the need to prepare students for high-technology jobs. The proposed center would serve as a professional development center for K-12 educators at Norwin and across the region through a partnership with a Pittsburgh STEM education nonprofit.

The state bill requests $2.5 million for “construction and other related costs for development of a regional facility to be utilized as a professional development center for effective teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

State funding is not a guarantee, as any organization can request funds from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, Ward said.

Only “a very, very minute number of those actually get funded” by the Legislature, she said.

Even though the process to request funding is competitive and lengthy, Norwin Superintendent William Kerr remains hopeful.

“We're optimistic because we believe it's a project that has much merit especially in term of STEM education,” Kerr said.

Officials requested $2.5 million because it seemed like “a reasonable amount,” Kerr said. An overall cost figure to build the center has not yet been developed.

If Norwin receives the one-time state money, Norwin will match the money in some way, perhaps through gifts from alumni, foundations and people interested in science and technology, Kerr said.

“We're not looking at local taxpayer money,” Kerr said. “We don't want to raise local taxes in any way to pay for this facility.”

Kerr said he hopes to learn about the state funding within the year.

The STEM center would be financed and built after a process of identifying business-education tenants who would commit to leasing space on a long-term basis.

Officials have been in talks with ASSET STEM, a Pittsburgh-based STEM nonprofit, the Air Force's Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and the Penn State Electro-Optics Center, said Jon Szish, district spokesman and executive director of the Norwin School District Community Foundation.

Career areas to be taught at the center may include manufacturing technology, health care, education, biomedical, bioscience and medical technology, pharmacy, dentistry, renewable and clean energy, environmental sciences, aviation and aerospace, and information technology.

Norwin school board has indicated support to fund a feasibility study for the center, Kerr said.

“Our commitment is that we want our students to be prepared for 21st century careers,” Kerr said. “Our emphasis is on college and career pathways.”

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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