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Norwin to seek state OK on elementary school plan

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 4:32 p.m.

The Act 34 hearing for the construction of Norwin School District's new elementary school was held Monday night, clearing the way for the district to submit its plans to the Pennsylvania Board of Education.

The state Board of Education requires any school district that plans to build a new school building or expand a current one more than 20 percent to conduct a public hearing outlining the proposed project.

The cost of building the new kindergarten through fourth grade school is estimated at $8.4 million, and the maximum project cost is not to exceed $10.8 million.

In its original plans, the school board intended to build this school on the current site occupied by Shaw Elementary School, but a new location had to be found because the area was severely undermined.

Because the elementary school had to be moved to an undeveloped plot of land along Guffey Road, the estimated reimbursement by the state was 19.5 percent.

If the school was built at the Shaw Elementary site, the reimbursement was estimated to be 22.5 percent, a difference of $300,000.

The state only reimburses school districts for costs related to building the actual educational structure. Because the Guffey Road site is not developed, a portion of the costs will be devoted to building roads and township tap-in fees, for example. These costs are not reimbursable.

The construction of a new elementary school is the first step in changing Norwin from a district with six to four elementary schools.

According to the Act 34 hearing booklet, Stewartsville Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary and Scull Elementary will be renovated to accompany the new elementary school on Guffey Road.

This would leave the futures of Pennsylvania Avenue Elementary, Hartford Heights Elementary and Shaw Elementary clouded.

Anyone who was not able to attend the meeting but would like to submit comments has until noon March 14 to submit a letter to Norwin's administration offices.

The hearing topped a busy night of renovation actions by the board, including the approval of more than $27 million in construction bids.

Construction bids for the renovation of Norwin High School came in almost $10 million lower than estimated.

Last month, Mike Arnold of Foreman Program and Construction Managers, the company overseeing Norwin's renovation projects, estimated the high school project could run as high as $42 million. But Monday he estimated the project would cost between $32 million and $33 million.

Construction is to begin in March.

The additional $10 million will be used to pay for architect's fees, construction manager fees and school furniture, to name a few items.

The low bids allowed the school board to include several non-necessities in the renovation project such as tennis courts for $61,651 and an engraving in the epoxy floor at the entrance way of the school and the main lobby of the new gym totaling $70,000.

The items, labeled ad-alternates by the architects, were included in last month's cost estimates with the understanding that if the bids came in too high, they would be the first cut.

On top of the Act 34 hearing and the special renovation workshop session, the board conducted a regular workshop session Monday night.

The settlement of overtime wages owed to custodians and cafeteria workers was discussed and remedied.

'We come to a resolution. We'll be resolving that with other staff members this week,' Superintendent Richard Watson said.

'It may not be agreeable, but I think it's fair. The method of (calculating the wages) is the one they gave to us,' Watson said.

He hopes to have $102,000 correctly divvied among staff members who were said to be paid incorrectly and illegally for their work at after school activities.

The district paid these workers an 'activity wage' for work completed during extracurricular activities. The U.S. Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division told the district the 20-year practice was against the law.

The board also discussed Irwin Borough's request to the school district to pick up the tab for its town's crossing guards.

'I don't think it's something we should take on,' board President Robert Perkins said.

Irwin requested $6,500 annually from the district for the guard it employees to make sure students make it safely across Pennsylvania Avenue near Middle School East.

The board agreed to have Watson draft a letter to the borough outlining the its decision.

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