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State College Area High School future still in the air

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Amid a burst of community outrage in which voters ousted five State College Area school board members, the board in May 2007 canceled a $100 million-plus high school building project.

In the four years since, the board has approved more than $3 million in upgrades to the two high school buildings. It has hired an outside firm, at a cost of $300,000, to oversee the creation of a facilities master plan. It has overseen two $16 million elementary construction projects. It’s agreed to pay an architect about $271,000 to draft plans for overhauling Memorial Field. And it has sued a bank to try to get out of a deal that was supposed to help pay for the original high school plan.

But board members haven’t voted on hard deadlines for a new high school project, hired architects to draft plans, or decided on a maximum price for construction.

“I’m not sure that we’re as far as I had hoped that we would be or that members of the community” had hoped, said board President Ann McGlaughlin, who won election amid the high school controversy four years ago and is seeking reelection. “But I don’t think that should be construed as no progress. I think we’ve taken this time to really think about justifying why.”

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Taking personal out of personnel

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis speaks to the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals at a statewide conference October 25, 2011. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

BY ED MAHON

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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK — Ken Pruitt, a former English teacher and current middle school assistant school principal, told the state education secretary he wanted some advice.

“What you just said to us, we can all agree. There is a systemic problem. My concern is the tone of the argument constantly goes to personnel problems,” Pruitt, from the Burrell School District in Westmoreland County, told Ron Tomalis at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on Tuesday. “And I was wondering what we could all do to talk about that systemic problem without attacking people and making it personal.”

“I hear that a lot,” Tomalis replied.

Tea party ties become issue in race

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2011

BY ED MAHON

A member of the Centre County Democratic Committee on Friday criticized two Republican candidates for State College Area school board and incorrectly said both were aligned with the 9-12 Project of Central PA, a local conservative group that’s part of the national tea party movement.

But in emails Saturday evening and Sunday, the committee member partially backed away from that statement and apologized for sending out incorrect information.

“I have learned that school board candidate Dave Cannon is not aligned with the 9-12 Project; he was only an invited speaker at one of their meetings to discuss his research on climate,” Betsy Whitman wrote in an email Sunday.

Whitman sent the first email at 3:25 p.m. Friday. It was an invitation to a fundraiser for Amber Concepcion and Laurel Zydney, both Democratic candidates for school board, and in it she cited her reasons for supporting them.

“Two of the candidates are very troubling, in no small part because they align themselves with the 9- 12 Project of Central PA,” wrote Whitman, referring to Cannon and Samuel Settle.

But only Settle is a member of the group.

Whitman also encouraged supporters not to vote for independent candidate Lydia Glick, to increase the odds of Concepcion and Zydney getting elected.

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.

Animator dishes advice at alma mater

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2011

BY ED MAHON

STATE COLLEGE — Doug Sweetland rummaged through his mom’s closet on Thursday, looking for old drawings.

The former Pixar animator and director showed off those sketches to hundreds of State College students Friday.

“Going through these drawings, I played this little game called ‘What was I thinking?’ ” he told the students. “Then, of course, there are lions. I defy any cartoonist within a 50 mile radius of this place to not draw a lion.”

Then Sweetland, who’s directing a full-length film for Sony Pictures Animation, displayed students’ drawings of a lion playing baseball, driving a bus to school and hanging out at a luau. He made jokes along the way.

“This one shoots magic in his hand and then it flips around and turns into a dove,” Sweetland said to laughs. “I mean, we go to an amazing school. Eat your heart out, Bellefonte. Does your mascot do that?”

Sweetland graduated from State College Area High School in 1992 and returned to his alma mater Friday as a 2011 Distinguished Alumnus.

During a presentation at the high school’s North Building, he discussed Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck as early influences, explained why he left Pixar after 16 years, and talked about how it feels to direct a full-length animated film.

And when he showed early story boards from his Oscar nominated short film “Presto,” he provided the sound effects.

“A lot of animators are sort of introverted and like the fact that they don’t ever actually have to go on stage. But I was never really that way,” a laughing Sweetland said afterward. “I don’t know if you could tell.”

Day of Caring volunteers give schoolhouse a facelift

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: Earlier this month, Elmer Esh painted a primer coat on the Gramley schoolhouse in Rebersburg to prepare it for painting. Since the building was going to be painted red, one of the workers at Home Depot put a dab of red into the white primer. Photo provided

 

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 13, 2011

BY ED MAHON

Earlier this month, the Gramley schoolhouse in Rebersburg was pink.

“A lot of people had comments about how cute it was,” said a laughing Vonnie Henninger.

She’s a local historian and one of the community members who helped raise more than $26,000 to save the last public one-room schoolhouse in Brush Valley.

Read more: Day of Caring volunteers give schoolhouse a facelift.

Residents lament loss of former Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church steeple

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

 

 

Caption: The old Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church steeple is in the process of being removed October 10, 2011. CDT/Nabil K. Mark 

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2011

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BY ED MAHON

ZION — A 35-foot steeple on a former church, originally built in the 1880s, is being removed by construction workers.

“You either tear it down or it’s going to fall down,” said Rick Walk, who was hired by the property’s owner to do the demolition work. “It’s been leaking for 20 years. We’ve been trying to patch it, and … it was too much money to fix it.”

Walk, whose crew began work last week, said rotting wood was the problem.

Categories: Bellefonte, October 2011