Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More Good Press for the "Burgh"!

Today's Huffington Post had an intersting article entitled The Best and Worst Places for the Newly Graduated - and guess what!? Pittsburgh is listed as the second best in the country! Below is a quick quote from the article.

"Pittsburgh seems an unlikely place for a renaissance, but the city escaped the recession relatively unscathed and is moving forward in many areas. Besides having bustling education and health care sectors, the city is also generous with arts initiatives. Incidentally, its mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, became one of the youngest mayors in American history at the age of 26."

Here the link to the entire article. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/28/the-best-and-worst-cities_n_555901.html

Go Pittsburgh!!!

VOICE of Mt. Lebanon

I encourage everyone to check out a newly launched website - www.voiceofmtlebanon.org

The website is dedicated to giving the true facts about our town's impending high school renovation. The members of VOICE support the renovation and are dedicated to making it happen. Check it out! While you're there, click on the upper left section called "Your Voice". There you can, with one easy click, send a letter of support to the school board and commission. It's worth a look!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Coffee With The Manager A Terrific Community Service

I attended my first Coffee With The Manager, Steve Feller, on Tuesday morning at Uptown Coffee.   About 25 residents were in attendance and the conversation was wide-ranging, taking in everything from nuisance properties to the municipal pool and the recent power outage.  The manager and his colleagues from the planning and building departments listened attentively and answered residents' questions to the best of their ability.  As is so often the case, connections were made and it made a world of difference to be able to put a face to a name.

My only hope is that the next coffee is scheduled before October!  That's the date that was mentioned and this is far too useful a community service to be held but twice a year.

At Earth Day Celebration, Zero Is The Hero

Here's some information from the municipality on the Earth Day celebration at Mt. Lebanon Park scheduled for Saturday, April 24 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.  This is always a fun party but will be all the more special this year thanks to its emphasis on zero waste generation.  Yes, zero is the new black -- zero waste, net zero energy buildings -- and it's all about taking care of the planet alongside a mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle.  More info below.  Thanks to the Mt. Lebanon municipality for giving this year's Earth Day event special meaning!

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Earth Day Celebration Hopes To Can The Trash

 Is it possible to get the family together to celebrate Earth Day, eat delicious food, shop with local farmers, learn about conservation and sustainability, create crafts and listen to music and poetry with hundreds of other people…all without generating even one piece of trash? A local grassroots volunteer group is going to try at this year’s Earth Day in Mt. Lebanon, in Mt. Lebanon Park, Saturday, April 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 This year’s event will be unusual because the group is aiming for a Zero Waste Certification, from Zero Waste Pittsburgh, a program of the Pennsylvania Resources Council. Zero Waste has a goal of encouraging people to reuse what would previously be considered trash, in the hopes of eventually generating no true garbage. The park will have NO TRASH CANS for the event. Everything will either be recycled or put into a bin for composting, with volunteers to help revelers know where to put it. The organizers will turn their data into Zero Waste Pittsburgh and the certification would come after the event.

 Last year’s event drew several hundred people. Attendees this year can check out solar panel demonstrations, shop for handmade glassware and jewelry, sign up for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), purchase fresh herbs and learn the latest environmental efforts by local utility companies.

 Admission is free and the event is sponsored by Mt. Lebanon Municipality, Gateway Engineers, Aladdin’s Eatery, Janice Caputo of Coldwell Banker and The Savvy Fox. For details and schedules, go to: http://earthdaymtlebanon.org/.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!!!

I hope everyone enjoys this lovely spring day! In honor of Mother Earth, I encourage everyone to do at least one small deed today that will help our planet.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Mother Taught Me Never To Lie

I bring to your attention a letter that was sent to the school board and commission regarding the petition opposing the high school renovation. As many have suspected all along, the solicitors of this petition are so focused on derailing this project that they have been willing to prey on unsuspecting, uninformed victims, feeding them with a plethora of half-truths and flat out lies. These fear-mongering tactics include telling people that the high school renovation will raise their taxes by 50% (I’ve even heard 70% by some!!!), telling them that there is a much more reasonable $75M “option” that the board has dismissed when in reality no such option has ever existed, insinuating that the board is planning to close neighborhood elementary schools, create substantially larger class sizes, cut curriculum and programs, cut field trips and activity travel, lay off teachers, administrators and support staff, and the list goes on. If this isn’t fear-mongering, I don’t know what is. The letter I am about to share is from just one of many residents who originally signed the petition and who are now regretful after learning the real facts. This particular resident is a single mom of a special needs elementary school child. She fiercely supports her child’s educational needs. At the same time her hands are full with her responsibilities as a single parent. Her free time is very limited and she has not had the time to keep up with the ins and outs of the high school project. It is safe to say she was an easy target, as many have been. I will not post her name (nor did I last night) as I would hate for the solicitors of that petition to harass her any more than they already have. (This practically made the opposed citizens to go crazy last night - one of them literally yelling at me and the board to reveal the name and address of the author of the letter. Talk about intent to harrass!!) The board has already received this letter with her full name indicated. I trust the board will respect her privacy.

My name is_________ and I am a resident of Mt. Lebanon. I recently received a request to sign a petition regarding the high school renovation project. The solicitor of the petition told me that my taxes would go up 50% if the current plan is carried out. I now realize that I was misinformed and regret having signed this petition. Please remove my name from the list of signatures on this petition.

Sincerely,
__________

After seeing the real facts, she went on to say the following in an email to me. - “I have been emailed, snail mailed and called by several people about the HS renovation plan....all telling me that my taxes would be raised by 50%. This is why I signed the petition. The amount was totally misrepresented to me. I am all for the renovation. I am most certainly willing to pay more taxes for this! I wish I had the time to be more involved."

Last night I urged the board not to be intimidated by the people in this community who are willing to do anything to derail this project – the very same people who yell and scream and show great disrespect for their fellow neighbors at these board meetings. The kicker at last night's board meeting was when a member of the opposed citizens to the high school renovation got up and flat out LIED on local television - stating (in response to me and the letter that I read from the resident who wanted her name removed from the petition) that they have never stated to anyone that taxes would go up 50%! How ludicrous! These very same people have even stated that number in board meetings in the past! It's a little late to back-pedal now wouldn't you say!!?!?!! Their disingenuous, underhanded approach is not only amoral but inexcusable. As their credibility crumbles, I encourage the board to remain focused on this extremely important project. As always, I thank them for their tireless efforts.

Get the real facts, folks. There are people out there who will literally say and do ANYTHING to derail this project. Be very cautious about what you hear on the street. There are two things that I just can't tolerate - mean people and liars. The people who call themselves the "Concerned Citizens of Mt. Lebanon" have got both of those covered! I'm am so happy that residents are finally getting the real facts and are rethinking their allegiance to this fringe group.

Monday, April 19, 2010

VOICE of Mt. Lebanon


For immediate release:





A group of Mt. Lebanon residents who support the existing high school project have formed a new group to provide accurate information regarding the project to the community—VOICE of Mt. Lebanon. VOICE is an acronym for vision, opportunity, investment, community and excellence; we see these as core values of the community that are directly relevant to the high school project.

VOICE of Mt. Lebanon has the following mission statement: We invite the community to join us in a conversation based on facts, not fear, regarding the Mt. Lebanon High School project. We are your neighbors—parents, seniors, empty-nesters, singles. We are your fellow taxpayers. We are committed to preserving the excellence that is Mt. Lebanon. Learn the facts about this project, and let your voice be heard.

VOICE of Mt. Lebanon is committed to getting the facts of the high school project out to the community, especially the following

The $113 million for the project is a ceiling for expenditures. The board is taking every step to lower the actual cost of the project, which realistically could come in well below $100 million

Taxes for borrowing the remaining $38 million (maximum) as bonds to fully fund the project would amount to $9/month for a $100,000 assessed home. The maximum total cost to taxpayers would be approximately $28/month on a $100,000 assessed home

Estimates for repairs alone for the current facility range from $89 to $103 million

There is no $75 million option to cover the cost of repairs—the cost of repairs alone exceeds this figure (see above)

Because of the scale of the project, the district will not be eligible for additional state reimbursement for high school renovation/construction for the next twenty years. The project cannot be staged as separate projects over the next 5-10 years without losing this reimbursement

Pursuing Silver LEED certification for the project will increase state reimbursement and lead to a substantial reduction in utility costs over the life of the school. Utility costs for 2006-7 for the high school were $974,121

VOICE of Mt. Lebanon will pursue many avenues to educate the community. For additional information, please contact Nancy Tashman at 412-343-1898, cell 412.651.7038 or ntashman@mac.com.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Options, Options, Options....

There seems to be quite a bit of talk lately about a less costly $75M. "option" for the high school renovation. The only problem is that this "option" doesn't exist. It never did. All that exists are some people who would like to believe that such an option exists and are happy to say so. Unfortunately, it does not, as Dan Remely pointed out at last week's board meeting. $75M would not even cover all of the superficial repairs needed. The $75M might as well have been plucked out of the sky. Ironically, it just happens to be the amount we currently have on hand without any additional bonds.

The bottom line is that there is no viable option that would cost $75M. To insist that there must be reaps nothing. It's like being on a plane (back when they still served food on planes, of course...) and having the flight attendant ask if you would like chicken or fish for dinner, and your response is "I'll have the beef". Well, guess what!!??! There IS no beef! There IS no $75M option!!

To my knowledge, no one, including Mr. Dirk Taylor, has presented a specific $75M schematic design and no one has consulted with or hired a construction manager to cost out any such project.

Needless to say, I am pleased that the current project continues to move forward. It is my hope that some of the opponents of this project will soon step back and allow the board to spend more time on finding cost savings, and less time enduring hysteria and ridicule. It is truly time to move on.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Asbestos Anyone???


I have finally located the photograph of the leaky asbestos pipe that drips in the weight room at the high school. This was taken by a student who was rather alarmed by its presence....understandably!! Mind you, this leaky asbestos-wrapped pipe leaves puddles on the weight room floor where the kids work out!!!! This can't be good. We owe it to the children, to the community, and to ourselves to get this renovation done now. Don't be misled by the misinformation out there. This is serious.

St. Anne Spring Festival

This sounds like a great event that shouldn't be missed!

St. Anne Spring Festival
A Gathering of Fair Trade and Organic Vendors
Sunday, April 25
1pm - 4pm
St. Anne Church


Some of those present will be:


TEN THOUSAND VILLAGES is a founding
member of the World Fair trade Organization, a
global network of more than 350 fair trade
organizations in 70 countries. A variety of
artisan’s goods will be available for purchase at
the Festival.


The mission of GROW PITTSBURGH
is to demonstrate, teach and promote
responsible urban food production.
It was formed in 2005 by the
owner operators of two
urban farms. GROW PITTSBURGH guests will speak
about Urban Farming and also provide
seedlings and other produce
for sale at the Festiva


THE KRETSCHMANN FARM provides Pittsburgh area customers
with organically grown produce, fruits and meats. One of the first
organic growers in Western PA, Kretschmann Farms is certified
organic with OEFFA. Don supports CSA (Community Supported
Agriculture) and will deliver to convenient drop-offs in the South
Hills. Subscriptions taken at the Festival. Don will speak regarding
Organic Farmer and CSA organic farming practices and offer produce for sale.


LA PRIMA ESPRESSO is a certified
fair-trade and certified organic
roaster based here in Pittsburgh. All
are welcome to sample espresso and
coffees during the festival; pre-sale
coffee orders are also being taken.
Sale proceeds from La Prima coffees
will benefit the St. Anne St. Vincent
de Paul Society


please call 412-531-5964 or email
samantharouth@verizon.net OR miriammanion@yahoo.com for more information
SPONSORED by ST. ANNE ADULT FORMATION

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Just The Facts, Ma'am

School Board Directors Dan Remely and Elaine Cappucci presented a clear and detailed breakdown of the High School renovation project at last night's School Board meeting.  School Board Director Jo Posti spells out those facts today on her blog, Center Court.  I've pasted them below as well.  Thanks to Jo, Dan and Elaine for helping to clear up the misconceptions and outright misinformation being circulated about this project.

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As Mr. Remely and Mrs. Cappucci pointed out last night during the architects' update, a $75 million [High School renovation] project does not exist. Entertaining such a project would:
  • Result in added costs associate with a complete redesign
  • Not solve the zoning issues currently pending litigation
  • Provide no funds for any classroom or lab improvements
  • Provide no funds for new technology
  • Provide no funds for improvements to the auditorium or fine arts theater outside of ADA compliance
  • Keep the current 5-lane pool
  • Keep all three cafeterias but not provide staging space for the expanded elementary lunch program
  • Make no improvements to special education space or design for inclusion
  • Keep the current athletic space with no new field house
  • Not allow for LEED certification or the resulting $1.2 million State reimbursement
  • Keep energy costs at a similar level to our current cost
  • Require modular classrooms and an extended construction schedule
  • Require waiting 20 years for any additional renovation in order to apply for State reimbursement
Mr. Remely calculated what could be done for $75 million and estimated that if we were to renovate the existing facility with a $75 million cap, we would only renovate the current building and we might expect to see a budget such as this:
  • Contingency: $7.5 million (10% of project budget)
  • Mechanical / Electrical improvements:  $35 million ($39 million was original estimate)
  • Roofs:  $2.5 million
  • ADA upgrades:  $7,360,000 (required for projects renovating at least 25% of plant)
  • Exterior:  $7.6 million (bringing windows and walls up to code)
  • Owners' soft costs:  $3 million (permits, construction manager, legal fees)
  • Abatement:  $6.5 million (originally estimated at $7.4 million but there may be less material than previously thought to require abatement)
  • Architects' fees:  $6.3 million (fee plus supervision of the abatement project)
This would take the project to $75,760,000 without making any interior or FF&E improvements, which he estimated to be another $13,250,000 for a total project cost of $89,010,000.

So while I appreciate the time constituents took to write the Board asking for a project cap, I wish those who asked them to write had taken the time to provide complete information related to a $75 million cap.  In the scenario described above, a $75 million budget would be exceeded and 13 or the project's 15 design criteria would not be met.  At the project's current projected budget of $113 million or $18 per month more than the initial bond for a house assessed at $200,000 we will:
  • Develop appropriately-sized classrooms, labs, and adjacencies
  • Reduce square footage to reflect our current and future enrollment needs
  • Build large-group space for collaborative instruction
  • Improve band, orchestra and chorus rehearsal space
  • Develop appropriate fine arts space
  • Centralize the library
  • Build ESL and special education space that is appropriately located to encourage inclusion
  • Meet all ADA requirements, including centralized elevators
  • Decrease the number of entrances and install security cameras, improving security
  • Position services near the entrances
  • House gyms in one location, improving gym security to the competition gym
  • Build an 8-lane pool
  • Increase the size of the wrestling room
  • Improve locker room spaces, eliminating the need for the current field house
  • Obtain Silver LEED certification
  • Decrease energy costs
  • Develop natural daylighting
  • Reduce the number of cafeterias to one and provide staging for the elementary lunch program
  • Completely renovate both theaters
  • Renovate central office and community-use space

Local Construction Industry Says Goodbye To Large Commercial Projects

From the Pittsburgh Business Times on March 29 comes this article on the dearth of large commercial construction projects in the Pittsburgh region for 2010 and beyond.  With a number of large projects (Children's Hospital, the North Shore Connector) either completed or nearing completion, the area's construction companies are awaiting a handful of projects in the education sector, with Mt. Lebanon's $100 million high school renovation one of the most sought-after projects among bidders.

It's good to be in the driver's seat with respect to the current bidding climate.

Who Will Advocate for the Children??

As a parent of a special needs child - actually, a twice exceptional child who is both highly gifted AND learning disabled, I know all about advocacy. I might just win the prize for the number of IEP meetings attended in a year. As a parent, I recognize my responsibility and job as advocate for my children. If I don't speak up, who will? Any mother (or father) knows the deep commitment and love I refer to when I say that I would be willing to move mountains for my children. I AM their voice. I have to be. It's my job and I accept it willingly.

This is why I am so passionate about the high school renovation. The children are not being heard and their needs are not being considered by some who seem hyper-focused on their own pocketbooks. I was so happy to hear a teen speak up at last night's board meeting. He said he was there to represent ALL children. I have great respect for that boy - his courage and conviction was riveting. My older child often begs me to allow him to speak at board meetings about the high school project. I know I can't let him do that. He is far too young to be introduced to the truth about just how ruthless, nasty, and downright mean human beings can be. It would be like throwing him (and myself- I've already been accused of being a bad mother by some "concerned citizens"- HA!) into a pool of piranhas. I'm not sure why this issue has become such a personal one - it really isn't about me, or you...it's about our community. However, all of this makes my conviction even stronger - I will not give up. I will not waver in my opinion, and my right to express what I know is right for ALL children.

I found it particularly curious that practically every person who spoke against the high school project last night either does not have children, has children in private schools, or has grown children. The latter group all referred to their grown children's excellent educations received by our very district. My question to those people is "Why is it ok that someone before you had to pay for your child's excellent education, but you are not willing to 'pay it forward' and help pay for the continuation of an excellent education for future generations?" That seems rather selfish to me. It also seems rather foolish because if this district loses its excellent reputation, all of our home values will plummet. Period. Statistics show that at least 40% of a home's value is based on the school district's reputation.

I will continue to advocate for ALL children for as long as it takes. They deserve a voice. There is no better investment than children's educations. They ARE the future. I encourage everyone to go to the MTLSD website: http://www.mtlsd.org/ to get the real facts. I also discourage everyone from relying on all of the misleading information that is out on the street. Fear tactics are unfair and unproductive. Get the real facts. Get involved. The children of this town are depending on you and me.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Parent to Parent

As a parent of only elementary school-aged children until recently, the high school project was sort of “off my radar”. I assumed that the project was moving forward and that it really was not a concern because my kids were so young. Surely things would be taken care of before my kids ever set foot into the high school…or so I thought. Now that I have a child in middle school time seems to be moving VERY quickly. I am realizing that before I know it my middle schooler will be in high school, and my 2nd grader will be there in a mere seven years. Seven years might seem like a long time. However, records show the discussion about a renovation goes back about 14 years – and still no renovation!! Even as it stands now, if there were to be no further delays and ground is broken this summer, the project would still take at least 3 years to complete. The problem is that there continue to be delays and it is looking less and less likely that we will even settle on a time to break ground. Completion in three years from now is looking very doubtful. So how many years will it be? Will my 2nd grader see a new high school? Will yours? I don’t know.

Over the past couple of years, I have been following the process carefully. When we first moved here I wasn’t really aware of the physical condition of the high school. When I took a tour, however, I was shocked….the walls are literally crumbling, there is peeling lead paint throughout much of it, asbestos EVERYWHERE – which is especially troubling since the heating and water systems are in total disrepair – causing pipes that are wrapped in that asbestos to leak, etc.. I have been told by students and parents of massive floods where hallways and lockers are filled with standing water. I was also told of a leak problem in a room where there were exposed pipes dripping onto the floor – those pipes had a sign attached to them saying “asbestos – DO NOT TOUCH” – I wonder what happens to asbestos when it gets wet….I have also been told that there have been small fires in certain classrooms that have faulty and old electrical wiring. The clincher for me is that because the building was constructed in many stages over many years, the safety codes for each vintage building are only held to the standard of code that was intact when that building was put up. For example, the oldest part of the building was constructed in the 1920’s! The safety codes for that building are only held to the codes from the 1920’s!!!! That’s why most of the entire building has no sprinkler system, for example. This is fact! I have spoken with the Allegheny Health Dept. and the local Fire Dept. about this directly.

I feel strongly that our children and our community deserve and NEED this renovation. It is long past due. I also realize that there are people who are concerned about rising taxes, etc. It is a reality that taxes will increase. However, there has been a lot of misinformation circulating around town about just how much the taxes will increase. Some say 50% increases. That is simply not true. The board president and the District’s financial expert have confirmed this. Please know that there are people out there who are putting out misinformation because they are against the project. Their hope is to derail it completely. Please also know that many of those people either don’t have kids, kids out of school, or have kids who attend private schools…so why should they have to pay for improved education for our kids? I’ll tell you why – because it doesn’t just help our kids – it helps our community – it helps to maintain and improve the values of ALL our homes – in helps to encourage people to move here and keep our economy strong. Education is our community’s biggest asset and draw – in my opinion, without this renovation, we are risking not only our kids’ educations but also our community’s reputation. Poor reputations don’t encourage people to move here…I know I moved here for the schools and I certainly would not have moved here if the reputation was not excellent.

I encourage everyone to get involved and support this very important project. On Monday, April 12 at 7:30 there will be a School Board meeting at the high school (with an architect’s update at 7PM). Now, more than ever, the board needs a show of support for all of the work that has been put into this project. This project has been carefully planned over many years, and it must move forward in my opinion. I hope you agree. If so, please try to attend the meeting on April 12. Additionally, if you are interested in getting more information go the district website (http://www.mtlsd.org/) and view the FAQ’s about the project. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Comings 'n Goings

Random thoughts and bon mots, as San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen liked to say...

* A fond farewell to the Anne Gregory bridal shop on Washington Road.  Greg, I've derived countless hours of pleasure from your gorgeous store windows, usually on my morning run.  You will be missed!  If there's a silver lining to your move to Dormont, it's that I might actually extend my run all the way to your new shop!

* When Mister Rogers said "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood," he must've been thinking about Mt. Lebanon in the springtime.  Apple and pear trees in full flower, magnolias...just waiting for my dogwood and lilac to bloom.  Temps in the 80s as I type this are making it feel more like summer than spring but I'm not complaining.

* Martha's Run is this Saturday, April 10.  Go run a mile or two -- or 6.2 -- in memory of a noble, local heroine.

* A sprawling home on Hoodridge Drive that went up for sale about a month ago is already sporting a SOLD sign.  If that's not a good sign for the local economy, I don't know what is.

* The next "Coffee with the Manager" hosted by Municipal Manager Steve Feller will be held at Uptown Coffee on Tuesday, April 20.  Times are 10-11:30 a.m. and 7-8:30 p.m.  Please, bend Steve's ear -- that's why he's there!  And then there's the coffee and pastry at Uptown...YUM.