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Belle Vernon Area school district faces big bill for tech center

| Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, 10:30 a.m.

The Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center is in dire need of structural repairs and the Belle Vernon Area school district may have to split the bill.

CTC director Brad Elwood and assistant director Jeff Geesey came before the BVA school board Monday and said the repair project for the 37-year-old Hempfield building will cost upwards of $9.1 million.

Under the plan, which is divided among the center's nine member schools, BVA would pitch in anywhere from $99,000 to more than $103,000 over a 15-year period, depending on interest rates.

The rate is based on average daily membership of each school district over the past three school years. About 50 BVA students currently attend classes at the center.

“Our roof is original, our boilers are original and so is our electrical system,” Elwood said. “We're not talking about renovation. We're talking about what we call fixing the ‘hearts and lungs' of the building.”

All nine member schools, however, must unanimously approve the project. Only Penn-Trafford has committed thus far. The others are BVA, Hempfield, Jeannette, Greensburg Salem, Yough, Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland and Norwin. Locally, Frazier students also attend classes.

Elwood and Geesey absorbed tough questions from board members regarding everything from why the building was neglected for so long to what would happen if the district refused to pay.

“Why was all this not done earlier? Why did you wait until so many things went wrong and now you're asking member districts to keep the house in order,” board member Joe Grata said.

“I can't speak to why (the previous administrators) didn't decide to fix these sooner, other than the old adage, ‘If it's not broke, don't try and fix it,'” Elwood said. “By doing all these repairs, in my opinion, the object is to not to come back again and ask for more.”

Geesey said a “hot spot” was already found in one of the old boilers after a recent infrared scan.

“It could fail at any moment. This is not a question of ‘if', but ‘when',” he said. “Not only would it cost more to do an emergency repair, because you're dealing with emergency costs, but the reality is from the time we pick up the phone to have that boiler replaced it will be (eight weeks) to have complete installation.”

Total repair costs include nearly $2 million for a new roof and approximately $310,000 to replace the welding exhaust system. Elwood said an initial estimate for complete renovation ran upwards of $33 million.

To accentuate his point, Geesey held up a small sheet of paper.

“This piece of paper would not even be held up by our current ventilation system,” said Geesey, a former welding instructor. “We are not coming on bended knee for a Taj Mahal. We are coming on bended knee for much-needed repairs for a roof that we got 12 more years out of than we would normally expect.”

Afterward, BVA Superintendent John Wilkinson indicated the board would be willing to do its part.

“A decision needs to be made. Our kids go there, so the recommendation is we should follow through and support that,” Wilkinson said. “I have been aware of this from my first meeting as superintendent and there is a lot of sticker shock when we need a roof here as well. It's a tough decision the board has to make.”

BVA was the last district approached by Elwood and company. Wilkinson said he will meet with the other superintendents Wednesday.

Board president Aaron Bialon stated the CTC would be forced to eliminate programs. He said under articles of agreement, the district is legally bound to the center.

After their presentation, Elwood said he hated asking for money — particularly at a time when most districts are cash strapped due to cuts in state funding.

“We hate coming asking for money, but the can kept getting kicked down the road and we're left holding the can,” Elwood said. “If the heat goes out in January and we have a broken boiler and can't send students, then the costs will still have to be shared by the districts, and in my opinion, the costs would be higher.”

In a bit of good news, the school district may save $117,000 in annual transportation costs, after research and recommendations by Wilkinson and transportation supervisor Dave Bashada. As a result, the board approved a bid to acquire 10 new vans for special-needs students through a state program.

Until now, the district bused those students through private companies. The board also unanimously approved a three-year lease proposal for the vans at a cost of $134,300.

“These will be our own vans, our own drivers that are accountable to us that we can hire, and we can hold them for 12, 13 years,” Wilkinson said. “For the first few years, we will lease them. Our savings after the vans are paid off jumps to $194,280 with the understanding our creditors keep their prices static.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2635.

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