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Solar Savings: Deals net local schools green energy, learning tools

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: Project Manager Rick Vilello talks about the 2152 individual solar panels on the roof of Bald Eagle Area High School and Wingate Elementary Schools combined October 11, 2011. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2011

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BY ED MAHON

WINGATE — At one Bald Eagle Area School District building, solar panels cover more than half the roof. That’s equal to about two-and-a-half football fields— end zones included.

“It’s funny to think, Bald Eagle Area, in the middle of Centre County, one of the most rural school districts — and this is one of the most high-tech buildings in Pennsylvania,” district construction manager Rick Vilello said while standing atop the roof on a foggy day recently.

Lots of districts have tried to lower their energy bills — from building biomass boilers

to turning off teachers’ coffee pots in classrooms. But Bald Eagle Area and Bellefonte Area school districts have taken an unusual approach through a private partnership:

Solar panels provide about half the energy for the Bald Eagle Area middle and high school building, as well as the connected Wingate Elementary School. In the neighboring Bellefonte Area School District, two elementary schools — Pleasant Gap and Marion-Walker — and the high school have solar energy systems, too.

So far the savings from solar energy are modest — about $12,000 at Bald Eagle Area, and less than that in Bellefonte, based on an analysis of data provided by the districts.

But leaders there say the panels didn’t cost the districts or local taxpayers any money, serve as an education tool for students, provide certainty for future budgets, and could become bigger cost savers in future years.

“Really it was just an opportunity that came up during the renovation,” said Dan Fisher, superintendent for Bald Eagle Area, which has nearly finished a $26 million construction project at Wingate Elementary School and the middle and high school building. “And everything fit together.”

But not many Pennsylvania school districts are in a position to imitate Bellefonte and Bald Eagle Area.

“Solar, right now, is not attractive,” Damion Spahr, vice president of business development for the Harris-burg- based Reynolds Construction Management company, told Philipsburg-Osceola Area school board members during a meeting this month.

Two main barriers exist for schools. Federal and solar energy grants have diminished. And the market for solar renewable energy credits — which provide revenue for owners of solar panels — has plunged by about 90 percent since last year.

Carlisle Area School District leaders, for instance, told community members that their $2.35 million investment in a solar system would pay for itself within four years. But in today’s market, the system is bringing in less money than expected. As a result, the payback is looking closer to 10 years.

In Bald Eagle Area and Bellefonte, a partnership with a private finance and investment company, Smart Energy Capital, let the district avoid those barriers. They also aren’t affected by the downturn in the solar renewable energy credit market.

Both school districts don’t own the panels, didn’t pay to have them installed and aren’t responsible for maintaining them.

Instead, Smart Energy paid for the solar panels with help from about $2.2 million in state grants. The private company then installed the solar panels on district roofs.

“In essence, what we’re doing is leasing our roof space,” said Ken Bean, director of fiscal affairs for the Bellefonte Area School District.

Philipsburg-Osceola students real-world compost lessons

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: Ed Holmes, right, talks with students about composting and recycling. Philipsburg-Osceola Elementary School second graders took a tour of the State College Borough composting facility, September 20, 2011. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

BY ED MAHON

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

SEPTEMBER 21, 2011

FERGUSON TOWNSHIP — A few of the 7-year-olds pulled their shirts to their noses, and one raised his hand.

“Why does it smell so bad?” Brian Wallace asked his tour guide.

Ed Holmes pointed to a pile of dirt and debris at the four-acre compost facility.

“Because the greens that are in that pile up there are starting to rot,” Holmes, the public services manager for State College, told about 25 students from Philipsburg Elementary School. “So we have to get them mixed in with the browns, so they don’t smell anymore.”

The students have been trying to create their own compost system as part of a partnership with CarbonEARTH, which teams Penn State graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with elementary and middle school science teachers in Philipsburg-Osceola and Harrisburg.

Read more: Philipsburg-Osceola students get real-world compost lesson.

Philipsburg-Osceola students get new looks during first day

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Music teacher Valerie Stiner teaches the students the macarena dance during an all-school assembly at North Lincoln Hill Elementary. Wednesday, August 31, 2011 is the first day of school for the Philipsburg-Osceola School District. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2011

BY ED MAHON

CHESTER HILL, Clearfield County — More than 300 fifth-and-sixth-grade students would be streaming into the auditorium within the next 10 minutes, and Valerie Stiner and Sarah Sarvey had work to do.

The two teachers — one in her 30th year with the district, the other in her first— reviewed how to do the “Chicken Dance,” wondered whether you should hop to the right or to the left during the “Macarena,” and made plans for the future.

“The next time we do one of these big assemblies, we’re going to do the electric slide,” Stiner said to Sarvey shortly before the 7:45 morning announcement at North Lincoln Hill Elementary School.

The duo’s job was to welcome fifth-and-sixth-grade students to North Lincoln Hill — which, like other elementary schools in the district, began its first day with a new setup.

In past years, the district had three kindergarten through sixth-grade elementary schools. But now Osceola Mills and Philipsburg elementary schools each have kindergarten through fourth-grade students and North Lincoln has fifth-and sixth-grades. The move is one step in a multiyear plan at Philipsburg- Osceola to close the junior high school building and convert the North Lincoln Hill building into a fifth-through eighth-grade middle school.

On Wednesday, it meant more new faces for fifth-and sixth-grade students than in the previous year.

“Nervous,” is how 10- year-old Lydia Ralston described how she felt about the first day. Last year, she attended fourth grade at Osceola Mills.

Read more: Philipsburg-Osceola students get new looks during first day.

With construction complete, new State College Area elementary schools to open

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: People tour the main cooridor of the school. Mt. Nittany Elementary School is complete and will be open for the first day of school. CDT/Nabil K. Mark August 23, 2011 

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

TUESDAY, AUGUST 30, 2011

BY ED MAHON

The three Wolf sisters took an early tour of the new Mount Nittany Elementary School building earlier last week. They had rave reviews.

“It’s very roomy,” said 12-year-old Madelyn.

“A lot of sunlight,” said 9-year-old Lydia. “It’s awesome,” said her twin, Audrey. The State College Area School District spent about $16 million to construct the school and another $16 million on renovations and additions to Ferguson Township Elementary School.

Both are scheduled to welcome students today for the first day of school. And both have significant differences from other district construction projects.

Their multi-purpose rooms — which function as cafeterias, gyms and auditoriums — are larger than those in any of the district’s other elementary schools. They are the sixth and seventh district buildings that will have air conditioning. And they are the first district buildings designed to earn LEED certification for being environmentally friendly.

“How are we looking on that?” board member Jim Leous asked at a meeting last week.

“We’re in great shape,” responded Ed Poprik, the district’s physical plant director who’s overseen the two projects. “We are in really great shape. …That’ll flesh out during the commissioning process. But we all believe we’ll be LEED gold certified.”

LEED, short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, ranks buildings based on energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions and other environmental categories.

Schools that receive higher than LEED silver certification are eligible for more reimbursement from the state. In State College’s case, Poprik said it’s likely the district will qualify for 10 percent general reimbursement for construction costs. With LEED silver certification, the reimbursement works out to an extra 10 percent of that total general reimbursement — so 10 percent of 10 percent.

“That wasn’t the driving factor,” said Poprik. “The board’s primary interest was environmental stewardship and long-term operating costs. … Over the life of the building, all of these things … will pay for themselves.”

Read more: With construction complete, new State College Area elementary schools to open.

Workers finding a future in gas drilling

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment
PUBLISHED IN PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
MONDAY, FEB. 7, 2011
BY ED MAHON, CENTRE DAILY TIMES

PLEASANT GAP, Pa. — This time last year, Eric Klinger, 19, made his living delivering pizzas. His friend, Matt Bartholomew, 20, worked in a factory that manufactured pharmaceutical products.

Now, after a six-month course, they work for Halliburton, driving trucks, hauling supplies and doing some manual labor at natural gas drilling sites. They both started at salaries of between $45,000 and $55,000 a year — higher than the wages of most Pennsylvanians, according to U.S. census data.

“Nothing wrong with that,” Mr. Klinger said with a laugh.

Added Mr. Bartholomew: “The company that we’re in with, they’re saying 30 to 40 years they’ll be here. So it should be a reliable job.”

Mr. Klinger and Mr. Bartholomew are two of the thousands of workers hoping to make careers out of Marcellus Shale gas drilling. More than 70 percent of the people working at Marcellus Shale drilling sites come from out of state, according to a November report by Tracy Brundage, managing director of Workforce Development and Continuing Education at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport.

Educators such as Larry Michael at Penn College and Todd Taylor at Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology are working to change that.

They’ve adjusted their curriculums and added new courses, trying to provide the training that people will need to get jobs related directly and indirectly to gas drilling.

“This is something we’re really jumping into,” said Mr. Taylor, director of secondary education at CPI. “They’re long-term jobs, well-paying jobs, family sustaining jobs. Hopefully, [they’ll] replace a lot of the jobs that have been lost in the manufacturing area.”

Read more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website : Workers find a future in gas drilling.

Read more at the Centre Daily Times website (The CDT’s version is longer): Workers finding a future in gas drilling.

Eric Klinger checks the oil level on an excavator during his Heavy Equipment Operations class at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology on Wednesday, January 12, 2011. CDT/Christopher Weddle CDT/CHRISTOPHER WEDDLE 

Sidebars from charter school series

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Making the grade? Part 6: Need for high school debated

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Wonderland Charter School teacher Addie Rockwell works with kindergarten students. The region’s charter schools have cautiously considered expansions, fearing growth could tarnish their small school charm. CDT PHOTO/NABIL K. MARK

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

FRIDAY, JULY 22, 2011

BY ED MAHON

Rachel Eirmann didn’t want to leave Centre Learning Community Charter School.

“I will REALLY miss my friends next year (we are all going to different high schools), but I will keep in touch with them,” Eirmann, from Pleasant Gap, wrote in a goodbye message posted on the school’s blog.

“I already have half of their phone numbers. … I will be calling them so that my group of friends and I don’t split up. I will miss CLC so much … it was the best school ever!”

To be clear, lots of students in district-run schools say they love their schools, too. But the appreciation that students like Eirmann have for Centre Learning Community Charter or other schools often leads to a question from parents: Why doesn’t Centre County have a charter school for high school students?

Although about half of the state’s charter schools serve students in grades nine or beyond, none of the county’s four charters go beyond eighth grade.

“High school is a totally different ball game,” said Levent Kaya, CEO of Young Scholars of Central

Pennsylvania Charter School.

There are several logistical challenges to opening a high school charter. It would have to attract teachers qualified to teach, say, high school physics; compete with the comprehensive

programs of district-run schools such as State College, which offers classes from engineering to Latin as well as its own alternative education program; and otherwise wade into uncharted territory.

“We’ve surveyed the parents on a regular basis to ask what they think. And there’s always a couple who want us to add kindergarten. And there’s always a couple who want us to add high school,” said Carolyn Maroncelli, CEO Nittany Valley Charter School, which has 48 students in first through eighth grades. “In general, I’m very leery about getting bigger, because what we do best is be small.”

Read more: Need for high school debated.