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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011
 

Sherri Woomer admittedly is more excited about the opening of Fort Couch Middle School in Upper St. Clair than her son, who will be entering eighth grade there this month.

The building, one of two schools being renovated in the Upper St. Clair School District, will open to students this month with an upgraded HVAC system, bigger and brighter classrooms, expanded gymnasiums and upgraded outdoor sports fields. Contractor P.J. Dick is expected to complete the $53 million construction project on Fort Couch and Boyce middle schools by October.

"I think it's going to be a great facility," said Woomer, president of Fort Couch's parent-teacher association. "The whole thing is bigger and better. From what I've seen, the facilities are going to be amazing. It's really bright and white and clean-looking, and they really catered it around the students."

Upper St. Clair School District is one of a handful of districts putting the finishing touches on new or renovated school facilities set to open within the next month. Montour Area School District will open a new high school and the North Hills School District will open Ross Elementary School, both by the end of the month.

With the $21 million renovation, Ross Elementary is the third and final school the district has remodeled since 2006. District officials said upgrades to the school will make it more suitable for young students. The school housed a junior high school until 1982 and up until last year still had full-size lockers, for example.

"It was beyond my expectations," said PTA President Janet Lukac, who recently toured the facility. "The building is so airy and so open. ... I couldn't be happier."

The school on Houston Road features new administrative offices, relocated classrooms and an outside courtyard where students can plant a garden.

In the Montour School District, a renovated high school opens to teachers on Sept. 6 and to students on Sept. 9. Seventy classrooms, the cafeteria and teaching stations were upgraded. The building has a remodeled gym, a new library/cafe and a student art gallery. The auditorium features upgraded lighting and sound systems, and new seats.

The school serves about 1,000 students in grades nine through 12.

Meanwhile, work will continue during the school year in five districts that have undertaken major renovation or building projects, with various completion dates. They are:

• Moon Area School District, which is spending about $70 million to construct a new high school and renovate its middle school.

• Quaker Valley, $26 million to refurbish its nearly 100-year-old middle school.

• Plum Borough School District, $18 million to replace the nearly 70-year-old Pivik Elementary School.

• Pine-Richland School District, $32 million to add more than 100,000 square feet to the high school and expand the food court.

• Penn Hills School District, $40 million for a new high school, on which it broke ground in December. Construction is expected to be completed in 2013, with students moving in the following year.

• Mt. Lebanon School District, $113.2 million renovation of its high school. The district is expected to soon request bids on revisions to design plans after bids in April were $15.3 million over budget. District officials said construction will likely take 44 months, with work being completed sometime in 2015.

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