Friday, January 30, 2009

Feds' Stimulus Could Send Millions To Schools Here

The economic recovery legislation to be voted on in Congress this week would provide billions in new money for local education, including scores of millions of dollars for school districts throughout Western Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh Public Schools would be by far the largest beneficiary in the region under the measure being considered in the House. The city schools would receive a total of more than $55 million over the next two years, according to a Congressional Research Service analysis released by U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless.

Examples of other proposed federal funding increases include Fox Chapel Area School District, $1,991,100; Mt. Lebanon, $1,427,100; North Allegheny, $2,151,900; North Hills, $1,972,900; Shaler Area, $2,625,800; Wilkinsburg, $3,526,600; Aliquippa, $2,775,000; and Ambridge, $2,049,800.



Bookmark and Share

Some Districts Removing Peanut Products From School Menus

Growing concern over a national outbreak of salmonella poisoning has prompted some area school districts to banish peanuts and peanut-based products from school menus.

"We have removed all items with peanuts, peanut butter paste and peanut butter from all our venues, and products like cookies we have removed from our vending machines," said Cissy Bowman, spokesman for the Mt. Lebanon School District.

"[Our vendors'] products are not on the recall list but we are taking them out as a precaution,'' she said. Mt. Lebanon has cafeteria service at its high school and two middle schools.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Softball Booster Social Night Next Saturday

Mt. Lebanon Softball Boosters will hold an adults-only Social Night at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at Bado's Pizza Grill & Ale House, 307 Beverly Road. Activities include live entertainment, auctions, raffles and more. Tickets are $10 and include a buffet and one auction entry. Proceeds benefit the Mt. Lebanon Varsity Softball Team. Contact Lynn Bahm at


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yellow Cab Launching South Hills Service

Yellow Cab Company, a division of the Pittsburgh Transportation Group, will begin serving customers in the South Hills region beginning Sunday.

The company is launching the new Suburban South Service for customers living in Baldwin, Bethel Park, Brentwood, Bridgeville, Castle Shannon, Clairton, Dravosburg, Duquesne, Elizabeth, Homestead, Jefferson Hills, Mt. Lebanon, Pleasant Hills, South Park, Upper St. Clair, West Mifflin, and Whitehall."

"We are responding to the many calls, letters and requests from businesses and residents alike," noted James Campolongo, president and chief executive officer of PTG.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

School Board Rejects 3 Building Plans

The Mt. Lebanon school board appeared to reach a consensus last night in eliminating three of the five building alternatives for a proposed new senior high school.

With residents and some directors alike referring to options 1 and 1A as "band-aids," it is unlikely the board will pursue a simple renovation (projected cost: $103.2 million) of the existing six-building complex. The 1A alternative ($123.9 million) calls for renovation of the existing 545,255 square feet, as well as the "reinventing" of Building C, a large addition around the back of the school.

The seven board members present also appeared to dismiss Alternative 2A ($156.3 million). Existing fine and performing arts areas would be renovated, but the rest of the high school would be built anew. This option is only $1.6 million less than building an entire, new complex.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Monday, January 26, 2009

Update to Hardship in Lebo

Another update (Tuesday, Jan. 27 around 12 noon):

I've learned from Elaine (see below) that Rep. Matt Smith's office is now involved in the situation, that Tom Kelley at Mt. Lebanon Public Works has supplied useful information here, and that contacts are being made through and with Columbia Gas and ACORN that will enable the gas supply to be turned on and (if I understand the messages correctly) supplied for free.

It is appalling that this situation would happen anywhere, and it is especially appalling that it should happen in a community of which it was reported (concerning the proposed high school renovation), "If we're just a community that strives to get by, then we're not Mt. Lebanon any more." It appears that some people in Mt. Lebanon, in fact, are just striving to get by, and they need help. Thanks to the Post-Gazette for bringing the information forward, to Elaine and others for pushing to help, and to Matt Smith and his office and to Mt. Lebanon Public Works for taking this on.

[Posted Monday evening, Jan. 26:] Blog-Lebo reader Elaine Gillen sent me the following message tonight after reading this morning's Hardship in Lebo post about a Mt. Lebanon resident living without heat:

Hi Mike,
I was in contact with Ann Belser, from the Post Gazette. She said that at least a dozen people have volunteered to pay his gas bill. She is also in the process of getting better housing for him. I just came from Carl's house. He has no phone service and I am trying to get his phone service restored. I don't know how anyone can live in those conditions. He rents his house and the owner does not live in the area. The management company is not doing a good job of maintaining that house. I can't believe how this can be happening in Mt. Lebanon. I will be stopping at his house in the morning. We really need someone who can verify if he has power to the phone before the Verizon technician comes out tomorrow from 1-5. If anyone can help, they can email me at
Bookmark and Share

Mt. Lebanon Advertises in Upper St. Clair Magazine!

The Winter 2008 edition of the Upper St. Clair magazine, "Today," includes a little feature on the delights of the ice rink at the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center, together with a display ad for the Rec Center, which I assume the Municipality paid for.

Upper St. Clair Today can be downloaded here (the ice rink piece is on p. 70). Unfortunately, USC Today, like mtl here in Mt. Lebanon, maddeningly and foolishly puts the magazine online only in a high-res, slow-to-download-even-over-broadband-and-very-hard-to-search-or-link-to pdf format. That's a special disservice to those who follow Mt. Lebanon (or USC) news from a distance, and only online.

On the plus side, kudos to Mt. Lebanon for marketing to our neighbors to the south. Every penny of income helps.
Bookmark and Share

'Bomb Threat' At MLHS

Mt. Lebanon school officials notified parents of a possible bomb threat scrawled on a bathroom wall at Mt. Lebanon High School this morning, but police do not believe the graffiti is a credible threat.

Deputy Chief Ken Truver described the graffiti as including "a circle with a fuse coming out of it" -- like an old-fashioned cartoon bomb or cannonball. Principal Ron Davis' message to parents said the graffiti included the statement "Bomb 1/26."

Similar drawings have appeared before, Truver said, and police are treating it as vandalism. After notifying police of the graffiti, Davis asked students and staff to be aware of anyone behaving out of the ordinary.


Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Hardship in Lebo

Carl Howe spent last week's cold snap on his couch, huddled under two blankets with his winter coat on and a space heater aimed at him.

He left the water running so it did not freeze. His feet were red from the cold. He has not bathed because to do so would mean stripping down in his house where the temperature is below freezing and washing with cold water because his water heater runs on gas.

Mr. Howe, 59, of Mt. Lebanon, had his gas shut off this fall.

Read more in the Post-Gazette
Bookmark and Share

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lebo Teen Claims He Doesn't Recall Attack On Girl

A Mt. Lebanon teenager accused of attacking his ex-girlfriend with a hammer before he jumped in front of trolley car told a psychologist he doesn't remember anything about the attack.

Alice Applegate, the psychologist who examined Robertino DeAngelis, 17, testified Friday the teen should not be tried as an adult on charges he planned to kill Sarah DeIuliis, then 16, as the pair walked home from Mt. Lebanon High School on Oct. 31, 2007.


Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bye Bye (Enrico) Biscotti

A walk past their former store (and a few emails from our blog readers) informed me that Enrico Biscotti has closed on Washington Road. I've been hearing about little to no shoppers on a daily basis from some of the merchants on the street, but I didn't know that Enrico's was in jeopardy of leaving. Anyone hear anything about the closing?

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Is the Lebo School Board Honoring Your Right to Know?

I read the Almanac story that Joe Polk posted below, "ML case test for new Pa. law," and it puzzles me. This is how I read the sequence of events reported in the Almanac:

1. In early 2008, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania adopted a new and broader "Right to Know" law regarding records and actions of public agencies in the state. The Citizen Media Law Project has a helpful online guide to the law. The Mt. Lebanon School District updated its "Right to Know" website here.

2. On December 18, 2008, all of the members of the School Board met with the architect and construction manager for the proposed high school renovation. According to the Almanac, "All board members were present, said School Board President Alan Silhol on Jan. 5. The solicitor was absent, and no minutes were taken. Silhol said board members asked questions and received a thick binder outlining updated costs and breakouts of the various plans and costs."

3. Mt. Lebanon resident David Huston asked the Board to provide copies of these materials to the public. According to the Almanac, "Mt. Lebanon resident Dave Huston on Jan. 13 asked board members via e-mail for a copy of the materials given to them by the architects and construction manager on Dec. 18. Huston said none of the board members responded. Huston then filed a request with the state Office of Open Records for a ruling on whether those documents should be released by the district."

4. The School Board is stonewalling. According to the Almanac, "Silhol on Jan. 19 classified Huston's request as a lawsuit against the district, and directed school solicitor Tom Petersen to act in defense of the district with the state Office of Open Records. He directed board members to refrain from speaking about the Dec. 18 meeting, and said due to "litigation" he would not answer Huston's question whether the paperwork on the high school project given to board members on Dec. 18 was the same as handed out to the public at a forum on Jan. 14."

Here is what puzzles me:

Why the secrecy, everyone?

The School Board has a choice here.

On the one hand, it could respond to the records request by saying, yes, in fact this is a proposal to spend a gargantuan amount of taxpayer money, and we are so commmitted to demonstrating that this is the smart thing to do that we will be as transparent as possible throughout the process. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by cooperating with records requests like this one, because all of the detailed information supports our basic contention: The current high school facility is falling down, and the big-ticket numbers we've shared with the public are backed up by line-item detail.

On the other hand, the Board could retreat into its own Cone of Silence.

We're seeing the Cone of Silence.


If this is some reverse psychology designed to impress skeptics that we really should support spending $150+ million for a new high school, then it's not working.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Lebo Case Test For New PA Law

Pennsylvania's newly overhauled Right-to-Know Law took effect on Jan. 1, and it appears Mt. Lebanon will be a test case of a new appeal process outlined within the revised law.

It has led to the first volley over Mt. Lebanon School Board procedures regarding the high school renovation project.

The Right-to-Know Law makes public nearly all records and documents of public bodies like school boards, local councils, county councils all the way up to the state legislature. On Feb. 14, 2008 Governor Ed Rendell (D) signed Act 3 of 2008 into law, which was a complete overhaul of the Right-to-Know Law. By Jan. 1, 2009, the law was implemented in its entirety across the state.

The newly-revised law creates an Office of Open Records, a state administrative agency within the Department of Community and Economic Development. That office will hear most open records appeals, hold hearings, issue orders, advisory opinions and provide training.


Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lebo Wrestlers Group Together For Success

One big happy family is the Mt. Lebanon High School wrestling team and Bill Lewis is the head of a household that features 34 grapplers, only four of whom are seniors.

"Although we are relatively young at spots in the line-up this team has a good work ethic and has also bonded nicely," said Lewis. "They have created more of a family atmosphere and are supportive of each other."


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Mt. Lebanon Divided On School Plans

There appears to be two "schools" of thought among Mt. Lebanon residents regarding the high school construction project.

In one, the present facility is a disaster, and must be rebuilt from the ground up. In this scheme, supporters say the educational program will improve, families with school-aged children will be drawn to Mt. Lebanon and property values will rise. They contend the 4.1 mill tax increase cited by the district to pay for the $160 million project is not excessive, and delaying further will only lead to still higher costs in the future. To do 'nothing' is not an option, they say, adding to the present facility is not giving students the ultimate education.

Vocal supporters include parents of current and prospective high school students, members of the PTA, teachers and many high school students.

A second group in the community backs a conservative plan in light of the national economic climate. These citizens say the building isn't about to collapse into the football field. They support stop-gap improvements and a 1.5-mill tax increase. They want to divert this money over a period of years to retire existing debt. Once the $73 million debt is paid down, they say a new school can be built. They cite other potential costs facing the district including a new teachers' contract, increased costs for retiree pensions and year-to-year general budget increases which are beginning to cut into the educational program.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Water Line Work To Begin Today

Crews from the Pennsylvania American Water Company are expected to begin work today on a leak to the 12-inch line in the heart of Mt. Lebanon's business district. Water is bubbling through to the surface of the road in at least two spots where Washington Road meets Castle Shannon Boulevard.

"They will begin around 9 a.m. and work until it's finished," said Stephen Feller, Mt. Lebanon municipal manager. Compounding traffic woes for inbound commuters is work that began down the block last week. Equitable Gas is replacing a line in the area and the six-month project currently is tearing up part of the street in front of Mt. Lebanon's municipal offices.

UPDATE: Mt. Lebanon Businesses Left Dry


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Video and Presentation from High School Renovation Community Forum

The Mt. Lebanon School Board has posted the video and slide presentation from last Wednesday night's Community Forum on the High School renovation. All of the materials are available for download at the High School Renovation Blog.

The video files are embedded in MS Windows Media Players, so they are easy to watch on the Renovation Blog. (In the future, the School District might consider saving storage space and expense by creating a Mt. Lebanon School District channel on YouTube, and having the videos hosted there.)

The slideshow is a relatively large PDF file that isn't easy or fast to download if you don't have a broadband connection. To simplify viewing the slides, and to make the process fast and easy for everyone, I've put the slides online in an iFrame viewer (below). The School District may ask me to take the file down, and if the District does then I will. I am optimistic, however, that District and Board will appreciate the broader viewership that this format provides and that the file will stay up. (I also hope that future presentations will be published in an iFrame format or its equivalent, so that they don't have to be downloaded at all.)

MTLSD Community Forum Jan 14 2009


Bookmark and Share

More Mt. Lebanon HS Renovation Costs: Building B

Bill Matthews sent me the following 2 pages with notes on Building B, the Mt. Lebanon High School building that faces Cochran Road. The notes concern the cost of renovating Building B as part of "Alternative 3," the most expensive of the options presented at last Wednesday's Community Forum on the high school renovation. The comments at the Forum made clear that in Alternative 3, Building 3 would be renovated - but the renovated building would not be part of the educational program of the new high school.

Click the link below to download the pdf from which the slideshow is taken.

MTLSD - Approach 3 - Building B


Bookmark and Share

Friday, January 16, 2009

Lebo Learns Price Estimate For New School Is Rising

If the Mt. Lebanon School District wants to fix its aging high school, anything beyond repairs, asbestos abatement and mechanical work likely will require a seldom-tried voter referendum.

Construction managers delivered revised price tags Wednesday night for renovating or replacing the school. Preliminary costs came in higher than architect's estimates in June.

State law requires voters to approve borrowing anything more than 225 percent of the district's last three years of revenue. In Mt. Lebanon, that amounts to about $110 million, said Superintendent John Allison.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Retired State Police Official Is New Chief

Coleman J. McDonough is eager to resume a hands-on leadership position in law enforcement after retiring near the top of the state police pecking order.

McDonough, 53, was selected from among 59 applicants and started Monday as Mt. Lebanon's police chief. He retired from the state police as a lieutenant colonel and deputy commissioner for staff in Harrisburg a year ago.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

The Sobering Reality of the Mt. Lebanon High School Renovation

Last night I attended the Community Forum on the renovation of the Mt. Lebanon High School facility, sponsored by the School Board and featuring a brief presentation by the project architects, the construction manager, and the Superintendent on the design options and the likely costs. The presentation lasted about an hour; questions and comments from residents lasted nearly two and one half hours. We started at 7 pm and finished around 10:30 pm. I didn't do a head count, but I estimate that there were about 150 people in the audience when the forum started. That's an impressive turnout in cold, snowy weather.

The whole thing was recorded and, I assume, broadcast on the School District's TV channel. Live satellite versions of the forum will be enacted three times next week, on January 20, 21, and 22 at Markham (Jan. 20), Howe (Jan. 21) and Jefferson (Jan. 22) schools, each one at 7 p.m.

I am optimistic that a copy of the slides presented will be posted to the High School Renovation blog. When that happens, I may try to update this post with some specifics and numbers.

Some reflections on and reactions to what I heard last night:

One -- The construction numbers have been revised upward, compared to the numbers that were shared with the community last night. Still, not all of the costs of the project -- in any form -- have been rolled into the big, red "this is what each option will cost." The most expensive and elaborate alternative presented last night would cost roughly $150 million dollars -- and then some. The least expensive alternative presented last night would cost roughly $100 million dollars -- and then some.

Two -- So long as the questions and comments focused on big themes, such as "we need to do what's best for this great community and our children, and that's why I live in Mt. Lebanon," then there seemed to be broad support for the most elaborate and expensive option. Lots of the speakers were parents of current or future high school students. Lots of the speakers shared anecdotes about inadequacies of the current facilities. There was lots of applause.

Three -- The tenor of the comments and the tenor of the reaction changed when some speakers pointed out that the presentation omitted important and useful information, and when they and other speakers focused on certain details of the proposals. In broad outline a big project seems like a good idea; up close, there is skepticism.

For example, the two most expensive alternatives both include spending roughly $25 million for comprehensive repair and renovation of "Building B," which the community recognizes as the charming old building with the long facade on Cochran Road. However, that renovated building would *not* be used as part of the educational program of the new high school. Part of it would be used for administrative offices for the district; the rest would simply be available for community use or could be rented out to other organizations. Several residents noted -- to broad applause again -- that the point of the project is to acquire a first-class educational facility for the students. Chopping $25 million from the top-end budget, and simply demolishing the old building and reusing the land, would be far, far cheaper and achieve the same educational result as the top-end alternative. School Director Dan Remely argued that this is simply not an option. He said that the high school alumni and the Mt. Lebanon Historical Society have made it clear to the board that any project that did not involve protection of Building B would be blocked. I suspect that this point in particular will be discussed and reviewed in subsequent community meetings, and elsewhere. (Update, Jan. 15 at 4:15 pm: I've heard from several people by email that Dan Remely should have referred to the Mt. Lebanon Historic Preservation Board, which is part of the Municipality, and not to the Mt. Lebanon Historical Society, which is not. Please note a Comment to this post from M.A. Jackson, who is president of the Historical Society.)

For a second example, several speakers pointed out that the educational program on which the architects are relying has not been specified in sufficient detail for the community to assess its reasonableness. There were lots of references last night to an educational program of roughly 440,000 square feet, but there was little detail regarding how that figure was arrived at or how different elements of 440,000 square feet translate into $150 million or any other figure. When the request for that information was made -- apparently renewing requests for that information that have been made before -- the architects (again?) agreed to provide it. There was applause on that point.

For a third, final, and probably most important example, that portion of the presentation that focused on tax increases was missing a lot of detail. (Just to be clear on this initial point: There is unanimous agreement that everyone's taxes will go up under any of the construction options presented.) The presentation included one slide that listed the millage increases and the monthly dollar tax increases that would accompany projects of different scales. The implication of the slide was clearly that this isn't a lot of money, if you break it down on a monthly basis. I'll try to put up specifics later, but the maximum figure was a dollar increase of "only" $100 per month for the owner of a home assessed at $300,000. That would be for the $150 million project.

There are at least two problems with looking at the numbers that way.

One is that it was not explained *how* the construction costs translate into specific millage increases. There was some discussion of interest rates in the bond market and a great deal of reliance by the presenters (District Finance Manager Jan Klein in particular) on the District's "financial advisors." (I assume that these include Moody's Iinvestor Service.) It appeared to some commenters that according to the slide, at higher levels of construction cost, one mill of tax increase was buying more construction dollars than one mill would buy at lower levels -- leading to the suspicion that the real tax increase would be larger than the presentation suggested. (That's always a suspicion, at any level of government and for any new program.)

Two is that the presentation's numbers have a more substantial impact when read differently.

I ran a quick mental calculation of my own tax bill based on the numbers I saw last night.

For the $150 million project, my school taxes would go up by at least 20%. And that's a long-term, effectively permanent increase.

One commenter asked if taxes would go down when the bonds are paid off (25 years in the future), and everyone laughed. We know how this works. And don't forget the other tax increases that are clearly coming. The School District is facing large pension liabilities in a few years, and eventually the Municipality will come asking for money to pay for sewer repairs.

Four -- Only a couple of speakers made what I regard as an obvious point: The goal of this entire project is *not* to build a beautiful new building. The goal is to ensure that the children of Mt. Lebanon have a rewarding and challenging education. When any of us focuses too much on accomplishing that goal solely by reconstructing the building (and/or solely by focusing on constructing facilities that enable "21st century education," whatever that is), we miss both an essential point and we also miss an enormous opportunity.

I've written about this before on the blog and won't repeat the whole thing here. The basic point is this: It is possible to have a first-rate building but to house a second-rate education. It is possible to have a first-rate education in a second-rate building. The best of all worlds is to have a first-rate education in a first-rate building. But we do not live in the best of all worlds.

Five -- Director James Fraasch has proposed and Director Mark Hart supports a different approach, involving relatively minor spending now to fix the most dramatic problems and postponing major work until the District's finances are more stable. At last night's meeting, there was very little support for that approach. But it is also evident that the Board is aware of at least one other option, closer to the $110 million number, that was not presented last night. During the presentation this was referred to as "Alternative 4," and the architects insisted that there are no drawings or programs for it. The coyness of the response and the fact that "Alternative 4" was mentioned on the slides suggests that this is something that the Board has discussed, and with good reason: It would involve recognizing some real-world politics that surround the project. The Board may eventually be confronted with the fact that it has a certain amount of money to spend ($110 million? $150 million?) and then have to decide what to do with that money. The current approach, which involves selecting a bunch of features, then seeing what the cash register says, may not be politically sustainable.

What would Alternative 4 look like? After the meeting I heard some speculation that it would involve a major new building (possibly situated on the upper athletic field, next to the parking lot), then demolition of the problematic Building C (the newest of the current crop, which houses Centre Court), perhaps with minor renovation of the Fine Arts complex. That's not a complete picture, but it's quite different from anything that was presented last night.

Six -- Where do we go from here?

Under relevant state law, any construction budget of $110 million or more means that the School Board cannot authorize borrowing all of that money without going to the residents of Mt. Lebanon in a referendum. $110 million is a kind a magic number in that sense, and there is no prospect that it will go up (it might go down). My read of last night's meeting is that there is a lot of support in the community, as well as on the Board, for spending more than $110 million. So it is likely that a public vote is on the horizon.

There are at least three things to note about a referendum, all of them direct and pragmatic:

One is that the School Board will have to pick a project, specify that project in much more detail than we saw last night, and put a dollar number on that project. Will the citizens be asked to vote on a $150 million project? A $120 million project? Something else? The specifics of the proposal likely will not bind the District once the election is over. But if the referendum passes, the District will end up with a fixed amount of money, and then it will have to decide how to spend it. Before the referendum, the Board will simply have to decide how much money to ask for.

Two is that there is no gurantee that a referendum will pass. There is no precedent for this exercise here in Mt. Lebanon. A majority of taxpaying households in Mt. Lebanon do not have school-age children. Lots of those people will support a referendum on the ground that a new school is good for the community and good for their property values. But lots of those people, and even lots of people who *do* have school-age children but evaluate the costs and benefits here differently, will vote "no."

Three is that whether or not a referendum passes, the process of going through a referendum will be painful, and it may impose some long-term costs on the community. This being an election, and it being unlikely that everyone will simply raise their hands and agree to pass the proposition, it is likely that a "No on the Referendum" group will be organized. With a website, and signs, and volunteers, and coffees and all the usual trappings. Think about the arguments that will be offered. Even if it doesn't get ugly, it will get tense and unhappy, and the tension and unhappiness will likely persist even once the vote is taken.

At the conclusion of last night's meeting, Director Elaine Capucci encouraged residents to continue to voice their comments and opinions about the project, by attending one of the future Forums (see above), by emailing the members of the Board, or by posting comments at the High School Renovation blog. There was no reference to this blog (though I never expect any!).

I know that members of the Board read what is posted here. I'm sure that I've missed some things about the meeting, and I'm sure that some people will disagree with my characterizations of others. Fire away, but as always, include your name.


Bookmark and Share

Timing The Key For Mt. Lebanon Renovation

Project managers for the renovation of Mt. Lebanon High School advised the school board to get the plan "shovel ready" in the 2009-2010 school year if they hope to take advantage of President-elect Obama's stimulus package for infrastructure work. The package aims to provide funds to improve roads, energy efficiency, hospitals and schools.

But the board has a lot to discuss and decide before then, struggling mainly with how to proceed in the current "tanking" economy, as it was described several times Jan. 12.

Disagreements are strong over whether to even pursue one of the renovation options proposed by architectural firm Celli-Flynn Brennan, OWP/P, and construction company P.J. Dick.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Mt. Lebanon Volunteers Embrace Task

In mid-1998, a group of residents hoped that Mt. Lebanon would one day have a full-fledged historical center where anyone could go and learn about the municipality's past. The dream shared by those few people is now mere months from reality.

Boxes upon boxes of ephemera, vintage clothing, yearbooks and even items rescued from the Denis Theater on Washington Road have moved from historical society members' closets, basements and attics to a new home at 200 Lebanon Avenue.



Bookmark and Share

Mt. Lebanon School Students Brave The Cold

The temperatures in Pittsburgh have plunged and all across the area residents are bundling up to deal with the bitter cold. Despite the frigid temperatures, it wasn't too cool for school today in Mount Lebanon.

At 7:30 a.m., the temperature hit about nine degrees and Mount Lebanon High School kids hit the road on the way to hit the books. "I checked my computer for a delay today. I was bummed out. It is really cold," said student Kevin Scheiferstein.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mt. Lebanon Photography

Click on the link below for a charming photograph of the Mt. Lebanon golf course in winter, by Tribune-Review photographer Jasmine Goldbland.


Bookmark and Share

Upcoming Community Events in Mt. Lebanon

** If you would like to have information about your community event included at BlogLebo, please do *not* send flyers, posters, or colorful graphics. Send plain old text, preferably a single paragraph or less, and a link to where you've already posted the details of your event. (If you do send a flyer or poster, we may do our best to pick out relevant text, and post just that bit. Or we may not. Time is scarce!) Thanks.**

From the current mailbag:

On Saturday, January 17th at 8pm, the Parent Resource Network will be having a Winter Gala (now being called, in fun, a "Bailout Gala," at the Omni William Penn. Tickets are $50. but must be purchased in advance. The PRN is organized and run by Mt. Lebanon's own Kelly Fraasch. The website is Some details:

Parent Resource Network planned for several months a large-scale event at the Omni William Penn Hotel far from any idea that a economic crisis was about to occur across the nation. Today adjustments have been made to still welcome those that are interested to attend, but are feeling a little tight around the wallet.
Come and enjoy a casino evening with music, dancing and a range of auction items for every guest. The ticket price has been cut in half, formal/business attire welcome, and a variety of ways (large/small) to help support a worthy cause.
Saturday, January 17, 2009 from 8:00pm-midnight at the Omni William Penn Hotel (Grand Ballroom.) Two special guests will be honored for their personal care for two local boys in the Pittsburgh area; Dr. Jessica Henry and Mr. Roger Oxendale.

The Book Cellar, the used book store that's now open on the lower level of the Mt. Lebanon library, has some upcoming specials:

In February and upcoming months, you can expect all day Bag Day promotions (Noon – 8 pm). Fill your $6 bag with any promotional book in The Book Cellar and enjoy hours of reading!
2/4: Hardback Fictions (excluding new titles)
2/11: Valentine’s Day Special…Romances or anything with a heart or love on the cover
2/18: Movie Night…VHS Tapes (a bag of microwavable popcorn will be included!)
2/25: Mass Market Paperbacks…Everything in the store that has a soft cover (excluding trade/oversized paperback books)

Here is a coupon that you can use:

And last, "MESH," which stands for "Mobilize and Empower the South Hills," some Obama campaign volunteers who want to re-direct their energy to community improvement, is organizing a food drive for the South Hills Interfaith Food Pantry.

The drive will be held through Inauguration Day, Tuesday, January 20. Participants are asked to donate non-perishable items to the food pantry at drop-off sites located throughout the South Hills or directly to South Hills Interfaith Ministries (SHIM), 1900 Sleepy Hollow Road, South Park, any weekday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. In addition, volunteers will be available to pick up donations of food or money over the weekend of January 17-18 and on Martin Luther King Day, January 19. Checks should be made out to SHIM.

Donations will also be collected during an Inauguration Day celebration at Molly Brannigan’s Restaurant, 660 Washington Rd., Mt. Lebanon, from 6 to 8 pm on January 20, at an event sponsored by the Mt. Lebanon Democratic Committee.
The MESH website is at


Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Proposal Calls For Delaying Major Work

Mt. Lebanon School Director James Fraasch last night formally presented to the rest of the school board a proposal that calls for delaying the significant renovation or new construction of the high school and doing only minimal maintenance work over the next several years.

Mr. Fraasch outlined his plan at the board's discussion meeting. The proposal, originally posted on his personal blog last month, calls for delaying a major project at the high school until 2017 or 2018, but raising taxes by one-half mill for each of the next three years and using the revenue generated by the tax hike to perform $10 million to $15 million in repairs.


Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Monday, January 12, 2009

Equitable Gas Announces Gas Line Replacement

Equitable Gas announced today that it will begin replacing a major natural gas line that runs along a section of Washington Rd. in Mt. Lebanon. The project is aimed at enhancing the security of the pipeline system by replacing an aging 12-inch steel gas line, and is projected to run between January 14 and the end of May, 2009.

Work on the new steel pipeline will be centered around Washington Road between Shady Drive and Lebanon Avenue in Mt. Lebanon Borough, and Equitable Gas will be working closely with Penn Dot and Mt. Lebanon Police to minimize traffic disruption in the area.

Work on the 1800-foot section of line will necessitate closing the two outbound lanes of the four-lane road during the hours of 9:00 am and 7:00 pm, Monday through Friday. During these hours no parking will be permitted in the work zone.



Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

What They're Writing About the High School

Pop City Media, an online journal about Pittsburgh that is largely written and edited by Mt. Lebanon residents, has a blurb in its current issue about the possible renovation of Mt. Lebanon High School. The reads, in full:

Mt. Lebanon High School one step closer to major renovation

Three alternative approaches are under review for the long awaited renovation of Mt. Lebanon High School. Designed by Pittsburgh based Celli-Flynn Brennan (CFB) Architects and Planners in collaboration with OWP/P located in Chicago, preliminary estimates ranged from $70-$130 million. PJ Dick Incorporated of Pittsburgh was selected to manage construction and has now completed up to date cost estimates of the three proposals. Findings will be presented at the next community forum Jan. 14 at 7 pm.

“The approaches range from just repairing the existing structure to tearing down and starting from scratch. In the end I think we’ll end up somewhere in the middle,” says Cissy Bowman with the Mt. Lebanon School District.

There is no doubt the high school, which spans 536,000 square feet, is in need of some serious modernization. The oldest section of the school was constructed in 1928 and no work has been done on the facility in over 35 years. Heating and cooling systems are outdated and inefficient and with over 1250 exterior windows and 27 roofs, the building needs increased insulation. The utilities for 2006-2007 cost $974,121 (57% of the District’s heating, cooling, and electricity costs). The building also lacks ADA handicap accessibility and still contains asbestos floor and ceiling tile. New designs focus on sustainability and potential LEED certification.

“There are some tough choices to be made at this juncture,” says Bowman. “Increased taxes are a major concern for some residents, but no one can deny this school is a center of activity for the whole area, not just for students, but alumni and neighbors too.”

Writer: Lauren Urbschat
Source: Cissy Bowman, Director of Communications
Mt. Lebanon School District

Link to the blurb

Link to Pop City


Bookmark and Share

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Helmets Urged For Children On Sleds

Doug Satterfield remembers the crash as if it were yesterday.

"I was 7. For some reason, I decided to sled backwards. I flew off a cliff into and fell into a pile of firewood," said Satterfield, 56, the owner and manager of Rollier's Hardware in Mt. Lebanon.

Satterfield, who fractured his skull and missed nearly a year of school, still has a metal plate in his head as a result of the accident. So when he saw last year that sledding helmets were available, he jumped at the opportunity to stock them in his store.


Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Friday, January 09, 2009

Covenant At South Hills Files For Bankruptcy

A struggling senior living community in the South Hills has filed for bankruptcy, citing $48.5 million in debts.

The Covenant at South Hills Inc. on Thursday filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The center plans to remain open while it reorganizes and the filing came the day before a Common Pleas Court judge was to consider appointing a receiver to sell the Mount Lebanon facility.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Amici Restaurant Closed, To Move To Mt. Lebanon

Restaurateur Ed Dunlap has closed the Amici Restaurant in the former Tambellini Restaurant on Rt. 51, in the city's Bon Air area, and has turned the building into a facility for banquets, meetings and private parties.

"Our plan is to relocate just the restaurant and its staff to a building along Route 19 in Mt. Lebanon," said Dunlap, chairman of Centimark, a commercial roofing company in Cecil, Washington County.

Besides Amici, Dunlap's restaurants include LeMont in Mt. Washington, Cafe Euro and Euro Express in U.S. Steel Tower, Downtown, the Euro Party Center, Scott, and two Amigos restaurants, in the Galleria, Mt. Lebanon, and in Peters, Washington County.


Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Teen's Rite Of Passage Benefits Hospital Playroom

When the time came for Gabe Silverman to perform his "tikkun olam" -- an act of charity accompanying the Jewish bar mitzvah coming-of-age ceremony -- he didn't have to look far for a cause to support.

A longtime hockey fan living just a few blocks from St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, Silverman donated money he received at his bar mitzvah to stock a family playroom at St. Clair's new emergency department with toys and video games.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Mt. Lebanon High School Repairs Studied

Mt. Lebanon Superintendent John Allison holds a decayed three-foot section of pipe that was recently removed from the ceiling above the high school loading dock and wonders how much more of the building's plumbing is in that condition and where and when the next leak will spring.

School Director Dan Remely, who is co-chairman of the board's renovation committee, worries that the high school's nearly 80-year-old boilers could blow before a new heating system is installed as part of whatever renovation the board chooses to undertake. Parts for the boilers are so hard to find they sometimes have to be custom-made.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

ML To Host Project Forum

Specific costs and plans for the renovation of Mt. Lebanon High School will be presented to the public at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14 in the high school auditorium.

Board President Alan Silhol said he hopes the board can stick to schedule and select an option by mid-February, but said he knows there is disagreement among board members and taxpayers whether to proceed with construction. The recent downturn in the economy has compounded the school board's dilemma. Costs in mid-2008 ranged between $80 million and $132 million, not including consultant fees. Bond rates are about 1.5 points higher than in January 2008.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Comments, We Get Comments

When we reject a Comment on the blog, we usually don't tell anyone (except each other). Here's an exception, a Comment that I just rejected. It reads:
"Quit censoring the comments you don't like. "

We don't censor the comments we don't like. (Actually, we don't censor anything. We reject some Comments.) Read the Comments Policy on the right column of the blog. We reject Comments that are submitted without the commenter's real name or means of identification.

Not surprisingly, the Comment above was submitted -- anonymously.

Updated (also on Jan. 7): Another anonymous comment this morning, perhaps authored by the same soul, offers this:
Mike,I've think your blog is censored too. Anon

Well, hmmm. I'm just not sure what to make of this. At one level, this is just someone (or a couple of people) with too much time on their hands, and I'm a little reluctant to belabor the point or give them more blog time.

At a different level, the comment raises an important point, and one that I should address.

Read the notice at the top of the right column of the blog. Neither Joe nor I write for or on behalf of the Municipality of Mt. Lebanon. Our opinions are our own. We don't submit them (or comments) to anyone else for review before posting them. With the exception of one notorious and regrettable incident a little over a year ago, having to do with the infamous Secret Steps, we don't edit them after the fact in response to comments by others.

I'll be even a bit more direct than that. Readers who take the time to read mtl magazine (and its predecessor, Mt. Lebanon magazine) may have noticed that this blog and its authors have never been mentioned in the pages of that publication. (That's fine, by the way; I'm not asking for a plug. We have many, many thousands of page views per month as it is.) We've never been contacted by or even corresponded with the editors of the magazine or anyone who writes for it on a regular basis. When it comes to published information about Mt. Lebanon, no one other than Joe and me determines what appears on this site.

On occasion, I've talked about the blog and its contents with members of the Commission, the School Board, and full-time employees of the Municipality. They have been unfailingly gracious in my conversations with them, even though there have sometimes been disagreements about opinions shared here. I'm confident that the idea of anyone censoring this blog would be anathema to them, as it is to Joe and me.


Bookmark and Share

Bistro19 Gets Props in North Dakota

Marilyn Hagerty, a writer for the Grand Forks Herald came to Pittsburgh to visit her son and his family over the holidays. They stopped by Bistro19 here in town and she wrote about the positive experience in her "The Eatbeat" article yesterday.
"If I could, I would pick up this cafe and move it to Grand Forks."


Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Signs Of A Weak Economy Can Be Seen Everywhere

Alycia Knauer frequently visits the Job and Career Education Center at the Carnegie Library in Oakland to get books on the law-school entrance exam.

Knauer is among the increasing number of people visiting libraries nationwide to take advantage of free resources such as Internet access and videos.

Mt. Lebanon Public Library saw a 5 percent increase in visitors from November 2007 to November 2008, said Cynthia Richey, director of the Mt. Lebanon library.

"Libraries are essential to society anyway, but become more essential in an economic downturn," Richey said. General circulation at the Mt. Lebanon library rose 3 percent during the past year.


Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Monday, January 05, 2009

July 4, 1975 in Mt. Lebanon

A good friend of mine (and former Mt. Lebanon resident) named Jim Heid posted this digitized 8mm movie of his family celebrating July 4 in Mt. Lebanon back in 1975. It's great to see the park, festivities and fireworks from a quarter century ago.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

High School Renovation Meetings Coming Up

Here is the schedule of upcoming public meetings with the Mt. Lebanon School Board on the topic of the possible renovation/reconstruction of the high school:

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 7 p.m., in the High School Auditorium: A public Community Forum.

Tuesday, Jan. 20, 7 p.m. at Markham Elementary School. A public neighborhood meeting.
Wednesday, Jan. 21, 7 p.m. at Howe Elementary School. Another public neighborhood meeting.
Thursday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m. at Jefferson Middle School. A third public neighborhood meeting.

And a special meeting of the Board will be held on Monday, Jan. 26 in the Fine Arts Theatre at the high school, for a board discussion of the project.

I assume that all citizens of Mt. Lebanon are welcome to attend any or all of these meetings.

The postcard that I received that lists all of these dates says: "The community will be presented with the latest cost estimates for the building alternatives developed by the construction manager and the architects."

I am optimistic that the Community Forum will *also* include discussion of the affordability of each of the options presented, as well as the affordability of other options. It is essential that the question of the high school facility be considered in the context of the overall budget of the School District, including anticipated revenues over the next several years, the cost of borrowing tens of millions of dollars in the current (bleak) debt market, and other substantial costs that the District will face over the next several years. The cost of *not* rebuilding the high school right now is an important and fair topic, but that is not the only issue on the table.

If you have an opinion about where your tax dollars should be spent in Mt. Lebanon, then go to one of these meetings and/or write or call the members of the School Board.

Posting comments on this blog is useful, but only up to a point. It's useful in the sense that many members of the School Board read this blog (they email me; they call me!), but no one can claim that this blog constitutes or reflects the will of the populace. Lots of people post anonymous or pseudonymous comnents, which we delete. Some people send private email to Joe or me, pleading that they object to a massive reconstruction of the high school on cost grounds, but also pleading for privacy.

This is one of those occasions where private ranting does no one any good. From endless conversations with various blog readers, I know that people are afraid to speak out publicly because they fear recrimination -- from friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, assessors, etc. etc. Just about everyone in Mt. Lebanon sometimes seems to be afraid of someone else. This is one of strangest, oddest things about a community that claims to pride itself on civic engagement.

If there ever was a time to put aside your anxieties, this is it. The School District is planning to borrow and spend somewhere between ZERO and $200 million dollars on a major construction project, all of it payable in the end by the taxpayers. At least some of that borrowing and spending, and maybe a lot of it, is absolutely critical. But improving the quality of the educational program is critical too, as is fulfilling the District's pension obligations. If you're ready to rock and roll with the new building proposal, then speak up. If you have concerns about this project, then speak up. If you think that the same money should be spent but on different priorities, then speak up.

Just send your thoughts to the Board.


Bookmark and Share

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Christmas Tree Recycling

Just a reminder about the municipality's Christmas tree recycling program for those of you that are taking them down this weekend or next week:
Christmas trees will be picked up at curbside for recycling by Waste Management on Saturday, January 10 and Saturday, January 17, 2009. All areas of Mt. Lebanon will be picked up on those dates. Please have your tree at the curb the night before either collection date. The contractor has been instructed to leave any trees that are in plastic bags, so please make sure that your tree is not in a bag and does NOT have any decorations or lights on it, including tinsel. These trees will be recycled into wood chips and any foreign material on the tree could potentially damage the equipment.

Trees may also be placed at curbside for regular trash pick up. If you wish, you may drop your tree off at the Public Works facility yourself for recycling during this period. An area near the newspaper recycling bin will be designated with a sign for this purpose.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Elder-Care Facilities Seek Tax Exemption

Tough economic times might get tougher for some municipalities and school districts if officials from local elder-care facilities win their battles to stop paying real estate taxes.

In Allegheny County, the Mt. Lebanon and Chartiers Valley school districts are appealing decisions by the Allegheny County Board of Assessment Appeals that exempted Asbury Health Center in Mt. Lebanon and the Baptist Home Society in Scott Township from paying property taxes.

The exemption would cost the Mt. Lebanon district about $11,000 of its $73.3 million budget and the Chartiers Valley District more than $16,000 from its $47.8 million plan.


Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Lebo School District Pension Liabilities

At his blog, School Director James Fraasch recently pointed to the coming dramatic increase in the expected employer contribution rates for PSERS, the state Public School Employees' Retirement System. According to his post:
[A] chart of the expected contribution rates that was put out by PSERS . . . outlines the projected rates of contribution all the way out to the year 2038. According to this chart, the employer contribution rate is scheduled to increase from 4.78 percent for 2009 to 16.40 percent beginning in 2013. That would be a 244% increase.Last year the District spent roughly $2.8 million on these contributions, half of which were reimbursed by the state. In the District budget available online on page 68 you can see how much revenue Mt Lebanon received in reimbursement. Forecasting from today's numbers, a 244% increase would mean our contribution for the 2013 year would be close to $6.8 million of which about $3.4 would be reimbursed by the state.

Though you may have missed it in the crush of year-end stories in the Post-Gazette, the P-G ran a good feature on this problem on December 30. If there is no change in the expected employer contribution rate, school districts that are not in good financial shape already may be crushed by the new rates. There are suggestions in the air for what to do about the problem, but all of the suggestions involve serious sacrifices. The state could require school boards to allocate a certain percentage of their budgets to funding the liabilities; bargaining unit contracts might be negotiated so that new hires are put into defined contribution plans rather than defined benefit plans. Someone, either taxpayers or teachers or both, will be paying for this.

Long excerpts from the P-G:

The burden of coming up with the money will fall on taxpayers, both local and state, making the problem a critical one for school boards and state officials who already are struggling with tight budgets.

This month, PSERS approved an employer contribution rate of 4.78 percent of salaries for 2009-10, only slightly above the current rate of 4.76 percent. Of the employer contribution, about half is paid by school districts, charter schools and other public school entities. The state pays the other half.

Employees' contributions are expected to average 7.32 percent of their salaries in 2009-10. The state and PSERS cannot change the employee contribution rate without granting new benefits, so the shortfall ultimately must be made up by schools and the state.

Current estimates call for the employer rate to increase to 16.4 percent of salaries in 2012-13. But by this time next year, based on stock market trends, the estimate for the employer's 2012-13 rate may exceed 20 percent, Jeffrey Clay, PSERS executive director, cautioned the agency's board.

"We are not funding the benefits earned each year, much less paying the unfunded accrued liability of the system," Mr. Clay told the board this month.

"This is the equivalent of having the mortgage and not paying the principal. The principal gets added to the debt and, of course, interest is charged on top of that," he said.

For school officials in the North Hills, which has an annual budget of about $65 million, the increased share translates into millions of dollars. Currently, the district contributes half of its share of $1.5 million for the PSERS cost, or about $750,000. If the contribution increases to 16 percent of employee salary, Mr. Hall figures the district and state combined share will rise to about $5.8 million, meaning the district's share would be about $2.9 million.
. . .

Some districts -- including Butler Area, North Hills and Quaker Valley -- have nest eggs or forward-looking budgeting that may soften the blow.

But even if districts have set money aside, the high rate is not expected to be a one-year event. The current PSERS forecast put it above 14 percent for at least five years after the spike hits. Some are calling for the Legislature to make changes to avoid or minimize any rate spike in 2012-13.

"I think the Legislature needs to take a look at the fundamental nature of the retirement system. We really can't afford this system going forward as structured," said Tom Gentzel, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Richard Rose, a member of both the PSERS and Bethel Park School District boards, said, "I think something has to be done, but it's out of PSERS' hands to do it."

He suggested the Legislature require schools to follow a state Department of Education recommendation that schools budget more than 7 percent each year for retirement contributions so they can build a reserve to be ready for the rate spike.
. . .

The Association of School Retirees has asked the Internal Revenue Service to review the state's management of PSERS and SERS.

"The escalation of our systems' unfunded accrued liabilities poses a very real danger to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania, who will ultimately be required to contribute much more to our systems in later years to make up for the funds that the systems did not receive from the state and school districts and all that the systems were not able to generate from investment of those contributions," Ureneus V. Kirkwood, president of the retiree association, said in a Dec. 2 letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman.

Tom Gentzel expects that PSBA will make a proposal early next year to create a plan that would apply to employees hired after a certain date in the future.

"One of the ideas that we've been drawn to is the idea of some kind of a hybrid plan, a combination of a defined benefit and defined contribution," he said.

It may be time to think about such a plan, he said, because a high number of teachers who are from the baby boom era will be retiring in the coming years, resulting in new hires that could enter a new kind of retirement plan.


Bookmark and Share

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Mt. Lebanon Class of 1978

The 30th reunion video:

Explanation here.


Bookmark and Share

Friday, January 02, 2009

Meet the Bloggers Today (Friday Jan. 2)

Joe Polk and I will be heading down to Aldo Coffee on Washington Road this morning, Friday, January 2, to talk and meet Blog-Lebo readers and anyone else who wants to bend our ears. We'll be there from 10 am to 12 noon, more or less.

Please stop by!
Bookmark and Share