Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Price of Education

Update: The Pittsburgh Public Schools are on track to invest $85 million in improving the quality of their teaching. Who could have predicted 10 years ago that the city of Pittsburgh would be the talk of the region when it comes to setting the standard for improving public education in Western Pennsylvania? And that Mt. Lebanon would not be?

The original post:

Here's some timely pith from the current New Yorker magazine:
By now, most serious studies on education reform have concluded that the critical variable when it comes to kids succeeding in school isn’t money spent on buildings or books but, rather, the quality of their teachers.
That's neither new nor news. I studied secondary education when I was in college, almost 30 years ago, and even then research showed that the critical variable in educational success was classroom teaching. The School Board? More often part of the problem than part of the solution. The superintendent? Rarely a factor. Changing the superintendent in an underperforming district was (and often is) like hiring a new manager of the Pirates. It's the team that you put on the field that wins ballgames, not the guy calling the signals. In education and in teaching, what counts is who's on the team.

$115 million that we know about and uncounted millions yet to be disclosed will be spent on a new high school facility in Mt. Lebanon.

How much will be spent on hiring and retaining high quality teachers?


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Mt. Lebanon Man Says Obama Turning United States Into Socialist Nation

Inauguration day was a sad time for Scott Rice.

Rice, who backed the McCain/Palin ticket, said he knew President Obama would try to change America into "a society based on socialist principles." So he walked outside his Mt. Lebanon house that chilly morning, lowered an American flag flying from a pole in his front yard, and raised a different flag — bearing a hammer and sickle.

"I always had the Stars and Stripes up," said Rice, 51, a rental property manager and Army veteran, at his Cochran Road home. "It hurt me to take that down."


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Friday, August 28, 2009

Lebo Republican Survey Released

UPDATE: A copy of the results of the survey can be found here.

The Republican Committee of Mt. Lebanon has compiled the results of its recent survey and has released them. It will surprise very few people that a clear majority of the close to 1000 people who responded oppose the proposed high school renovation as currently budgeted and would vote against the project if it were posed as a referendum.

I hope that someone with more time than I have will put the full results online.

I went to the RCML website at , but neither the survey nor the results are posted there. The website is slick. Why not use it? Put the results up there.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Theater Backers Reeling In Funds To Redo Mt. Lebanon Landmark

Plans to upgrade the Denis Theatre in Mt. Lebanon nearly faded to black last fall because of the reeling economy. Now, boosters are charging ahead with a two-phase approach to raise money to preserve the landmark.

"The Denis Theatre has been in Mt. Lebanon since 1938," said Anne Kemerer, executive director of the Denis Theatre Foundation. "Every person who grew up in Mt. Lebanon went to the Denis Theatre. It's molded into the fabric of what makes Mt. Lebanon unique."



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Mt. Lebanon Teen Found Delinquent In Hammer Attack

An Allegheny County judge today ruled that a Mt. Lebanon teen intended to kill his ex-girlfriend in a hammer attack in 2007, whether or not she was injured with the hammer.

Juvenile Court Judge Kim Berkeley Clark announced the decision this morning following a three-day trial for Robertino DeAngelis, 17, who threw himself in front of a light-rail train right after the assault, suffering grave injuries.


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Monday, August 24, 2009

County Hangs Tough On No Shots, No School

Thousands of students in Allegheny County are at risk of being excluded from school over the next six weeks if they don't provide proof they have met new immunization requirements.

In some districts, the deadline is the first day of school, including Allegheny Valley, where school starts today. As of Friday afternoon, 45 students had not provided documentation. That number fell from 75 earlier in the week.

A small number of schools held to the May 1 deadline, including Mt. Lebanon School District. "We did our big push last year," said Mt. Lebanon spokeswoman Cissy Bowman. "We're in good shape."


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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lebo High School Troubles Brew

By Blog-Lebo Guest Correspondent Bob Williams

From projected parking nightmares to traffic logjams, losses of the existing tennis courts and possibly an athletic field, the footprint of the new $115 million Mt. Lebanon High School has already begun creating more work for the district’s problem solvers.

And there’s more hurdles likely in the future, say sources close to the district. While none of these known obstacles threaten the viability of the project, they will add substantially to overall costs of the school renovation. So far, school board members seem willing to forego the extra cash in favor of the $115 million renovation plans recommended by Celli-Flynn Brennan Architects.

At the onset, parking shortages will likely lead to more costs. With new parking spaces estimated at $2,500 a pop, Architect Tom Celli suggested school board members attend an upcoming commission meeting to lobby for a waiver of the 637-space requirement stipulated in Mt. Lebanon’s code. Right now, there are about 500 spaces at the high school. That number is expected to be reduced even further--not increased--after relocation of the six tennis courts wiped out when the natatorium goes up.

With forecasts of increases in other public recreational services in the new high school, and only 462 spaces in the latest design, visitors to the school may be tempted to park on Lebanon, Miami and Florida avenues, and Towercrest Drive.

But that’s not what Commissioner Dan Miller wants to see.

“I do not want to see those neighboring streets turn into a traffic mess,” Mr. Miller said. “That is my ward, and there is no parking permitted on those streets for school functions. I do not want to see that policy change.”

Of concern to Mr. Miller was the possibility of making Horsman Drive a two-way street instead of one-way. To do that, some parking and possibly student drop off lane frontage on Horsman might be lost. District officials engaged Trans Associates earlier this summer to perform a traffic study on the viability of making Horsman two-way.

“When I heard about that, I said ‘whoa,’ you are using the municipal traffic engineer for a study? In the summer, on a roadway that is more heavily used when school is in session? I told Steve(Feller), I want to be briefed on the findings, and the traffic study should be done once school opens. As far as what the district wants to do, they have leeway on their property, as long as it does not impact the adjoining neighborhood,” Mr. Miller said.

Regarding the zoning requirement for the number of parking spaces, Mr. Miller said the district needs to find out how many spaces they need, based on projected usage and amenities offered in the new building.

"Whatever that number is, that's what they should provide," Mr. Miller said.

On Aug. 17, Board President Alan Silhol suggested talking to the municipality about locating the existing tennis courts (six) on basketball courts owned by the recreation department. That option, he said, would allow for some additional parking.

“But what about the basketball courts,” Mr. Miller asked. “Where will they go, and who will pay to move them?”

There’s also extra costs for making Horsman Drive two-way. These would have to be borne by the district and are not in the current estimates. Some of that funding could materialize if the municipality waives the fees it charges all developers for a building permit. District officials have already asked that these fees be waived. In the case of a $115 million development, that fee could approach $1 million.

Finally, architects from Celli-Flynn Brennan met with Mt. Lebanon resident and structural engineer Dirk Taylor on Aug. 17.

Mr. Taylor has been a structural engineer for nearly 30 years, with extensive experience in school construction projects. For the past 15 years, Mr. Taylor has been Mt. Lebanon’s “go to” engineer for structural issues in all 10 school buildings.

Mr. Taylor’s examination of one of the schematic designs for the high school project raised several “red flags,” that to him warranted further study before going forward.

The lengthy document Mr. Taylor prepared includes drawings and explanation of structural “red flag” issues he saw in his professional capacity. They include but are not limited to walking distances for students, classroom size, building size, temporary classroom pods, athletic spaces and LEED certification.

“Yes, we met on Aug. 17, but right now I think it’s important that the architects have a chance to brief the school board,” Mr. Taylor said. “As far as my position is concerned, nothing has changed from what I put in my original report. I stand by it, and I hope the school board will consider my conclusions.

“If not, I am going to be pretty disappointed. In time, I will be more than happy to discuss this, as it is extremely important to the community,” Mr. Taylor said.


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Friday, August 21, 2009

Kelly Meets The President

Lebo resident Kelly Fraasch, the executive director of Mt. Lebanon based Parent Resource Network, was invited to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Obama on Thursday, August 20 and to be a part of that day's "National Health Care Forum". Video of the event can be seen at the following address -- Kelly can also be seen in the lower left corner of the picture below.

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Pennsylvania Schools Not Quite In Panic Over Budget

About 40 percent of school districts will be forced to weather the state budget impasse without help from their surplus money, according to an agency representing school financial officers.

"Because of the economy, districts who didn't want to use that money last year had to in order to balance their budgets," said Jay Himes, director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. "Crisis hasn't set in yet. The real panic mode will be at the end of this month."

Wealthier districts that receive less from the state, such as Mt. Lebanon, won't feel much impact. Mt. Lebanon relies predominantly on local tax revenue, according to Jan Klein, business director for the district. Klein said officials will pull from investment plans if needed, rather than seek loans, to make up any difference.


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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Market Focuses On Special Needs

Diet and health-conscious eating became a main focus for Upper St. Clair resident Jeff Weiner, even as a young boy. So, heading to a career as a grocery broker and later a market owner was a natural.

Just recently Jeff and his family opened Eden's Market, Mt. Lebanon's first grocer focusing on healthy living.

"More than 50 years ago I was diagnosed as lactose intolerant and with celiac sprue. I've always craved foods I couldn't eat such as breads and pretzels," said Jeff.



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All Systems Go for Lebo HS Renovation

From this morning's Post-Gazette roundup of "back to school" news for South Hills districts:

Timothy Steinhauer is new superintendent, replacing John Allison, who left to become superintendent of the Wichita Public Schools in Kansas.

Dr. Steinhauer said his primary focus will be to keep the high school renovation project on track.

In June, the board approved the schematic design and directed architects to move into design and development.

Initial plans have been submitted to the state Department of Education.

The district could see groundbreaking on the project, which is currently projected to cost $114 million, in about a year.

A new safety initiative at the high school this year will have more uniformed officers from the Mt. Lebanon Police Department spending time at the school through an arrangement between the district and police department.

This is an expansion of an already existing relationship between the district and police through which crime prevention officers ran programs and spent time in the school.

Now, crime prevention and other uniformed officers will use an office in the high school during their shifts and in between other duties to be available for questions from students and faculty.

The officers' presence in the high school "will add a level of visibility and added security," high school Principal Ron Davis said in a letter to parents.

Also at the high school, an "Athletes Deck" mentoring program will pair each ninth-grade athlete with an upperclass athlete from the same sport to help with the transition to high school.

At the elementary level, the district will for the first time offer brown bag lunches for sale at each of the seven elementaries. The program was piloted at Lincoln and Washington elementaries last year. It will not impact elementary students who still want to go home for lunch.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Impact of the Taylor Report on Lebo's High School Renovation

I am told that a meeting between Dirk Taylor, author of the Taylor Report, and the project architects for the Mt. Lebanon High School renovation, was scheduled to take place yesterday (Monday, August 17).

Can anyone report on whether that meeting took place, and on its outcome?

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Shaming Those Who Text While Driving

I was jogging past the intersection of Washington Road and Castle Shannon Blvd. this afternoon and paused at the corner to wait for the light.

Behind the wheel of one of the cars turning right onto Washington Road was a a distracted looking white male, late teens, probably a resident of Mt. Lebanon. (I assume that he lives here because he had that vague look that's typical of high income suburban teens.)

He was texting while driving. Hands on wheel, thumbs on keypad.

A moment too late, I realized that I should have focused on the license plate. The vehicle was a late model silver crossover.

Next time I see a texter-while-driving, I will get the license, as well as the make and model. I've got good eyes and good reflexes (if not the wisdom to stay out of the mid-day heat). And I'll post the information here.

When you're driving, drive. When you aren't driving, text. Don't mix the two.
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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Birthday to Blog-Lebo

Blog-Lebo was launched a little over four years ago, in early August 2005, so Happy Birthday to us!

The fact that we're still here is a testament to a bunch of things: stubbornness, persistence, and resilience on the part of Joe and myself in the face of occasional challenges and few threats; a reliably interested, thoughtful, and growing group of readers, some of whom are also reliable and thoughtful commenters; and a never-ending supply of things to talk about -- whether it's the schools and the School Board, the Municipality and the Commission, traffic, trees, parking, the Fourth of July, success, tragedy, First Fridays, last Saturdays, ULTRA-keggers, neighbors of distinction and occasionally neighbors who behave shamefully.

Not only is Blog-Lebo still here, but it's booming, and it's expanding. You can now find us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter -- see the links to the right. Bob Williams, formerly of The Almanac, has become a regular guest contributor, which helps offset the fact that The Almanac's surviving staff appears to be uninterested in doing much more than reporting what is supplied by official channels. Given the number of Post-Gazette reporters and editors who live here, I'm optimistic that the main editorial section of that paper will shortly start taking more notice of the town.

It's a bit more difficult to find us through Google, however. For years, Blog Lebo was in the top 10 search results on Google when you searched for "Mt. Lebanon." Now the blog is down in the 30s -- the third page in. (On Bing, we're toward the top of the second page.) Such a dramatic change makes me curious about the cause, though Google is known for tweaking its search algorithm without explaining what it has done. You can help us get back on top: Link to Blog-Lebo! (Or, if that's an outmoded strategy and you know the ins and outs of the search business, how about sharing some free advice!) And tell your friends and neighbors about the blog.

Thanks to everyone for reading and writing.


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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mt. Lebanon Hoping For Lower Construction Costs

After hearing a presentation Monday on the cost of borrowing the funds needed for its proposed $115 million high school renovation, Mt. Lebanon school officials are hoping for the same luck as that experienced recently by the Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park districts.

Upper St. Clair received construction bids that were 17 percent to 25 percent lower than anticipated on renovations to Boyce and Fort Couch middle schools and on Monday started the process of borrowing $60 million for those projects and other capital improvements.


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Private Road Upkeep A Headache For Mt. Lebanon Board

A recent meeting of Mt. Lebanon commissioners focused on streets -- how to slow traffic on some, safely speed it up on others.

Efforts to calm traffic in the Mapleton Drive area were established in the form of speed humps on several streets. On Mapleton in particular, however, an original plan to install two speed humps and an additional nine rumble strips was met with residents' concerns that the strips would be both noisy and relatively ineffective.


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Overseas, English Teacher Is A Pioneer

Walk the streets of the United Arab Emirates and you'll notice a variety of foreign languages and local dialects. But go into a bank, store, restaurant or mall and you'll hear English. Street signs are in both Arabic and English, too.

"English is widely used in any transaction. Even the locals will speak English when they speak to the shopkeepers," says 1995 Mt. Lebanon High School graduate Rachel Lange, who has done her part to improve the use of the language in the UAE by composing a 150-page workbook for college-bound students.



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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mt. Lebanon Girl Says Yes To Film Shoot

Mimi Bannon of Mt. Lebanon can rob banks and run from the cops, but there is one thing she can't do - say "no." Bannon plays the part of Yes Girl, an international bank robber who always says "yes," in the locally produced short movie "Yes Girl."

"It's going to be a good action film. There are a lot of good surprises and a twist ending," said Alan Beddingfield of Homewood, who wrote the movie's script and co-stars as Bannon's husband and partner in crime.


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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mt. Lebanon Commissioners To Study Private Roads

An abundance of private roads in Mt. Lebanon is prompting a study that might more clearly define municipal policy.

During a discussion session of the commissioners' meeting last evening, officials stressed the need to identify private and land company streets, and to evaluate whether these roads are up to current municipal standards.

Citing poor surface conditions on some of these streets -- which number between 47 and 70, depending on varying estimates -- commissioners said they hoped to move quickly on establishing policy. Legally, maintenance such as snow removal and pothole repair is the responsibility of those living on such streets.


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Mt. Lebanon Ex-Teacher Sentenced In Sex Sting

A former Mt. Lebanon High School teacher and tennis coach was ordered to serve house arrest and probation for sexually soliciting an undercover officer posing online as a 14-year-old girl.

Nicholas E. Salvo, 35, of Mt. Lebanon, will serve eight months of house arrest and five years probation under the sentence ordered today by Allegheny County Judge John A. Zottola.



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An Interesting Chart on School District Expenses

Dean Spahr prepared and shared with me an interesting chart that forecasts School District expenditures vs. student population for the next five years or so -- or, in other words, a cost per student" illustration that points out that Mt. Lebanon's "cost per student" is likely to go up, up, and up.

The whole thing can be accessed online here.

A smaller version appears below:

I don't know what his sources and assumptions are. In the comments, I'm sure that he can answer questions.


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Trees and Pazzo

More catching up:

Back in May, there was a momentary to-do over the removal of trees from the parking strip on Washington Road in front of the Blue Horse Coffee/Pazzo restaurant space.

In July, new trees were planted in more or less the same location. Several readers have emailed me to point these out, and I've seen them myself. Unfortunately, I don't know any more about what happened here. Were the old trees diseased or dying and needed to be replaced?

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Mt. Lebanon's Proposed Capital Improvement Program

More catching up:

Mt. Lebanon (the Municipality) has posted an online five-year (2010-2014) $43 million "Capital Improvement Program." The plan was produced by Municipal Manager Steve Feller (no doubt with able assistance from his staff) and has been submitted to the Commission for review and eventual modification (perhaps) and approval. A public hearing is scheduled for October 12. A vote on adoption is scheduled for December 14. (Both dates come from the document itself.)

The document is 103 pages long and deserves careful review. There is a great deal of detail, both about finances and about priorities and the criteria used to assess both. (That's great!) An essential part of the document is the Assumptions page (page 5 of the document). As I read that list of Assumptions, the Municipality is saying, in effect, that the general economic and demographic conditions that Mt. Lebanon has experienced over the last few years will continue through the life of the plan. The Municipality acknowledges that some important things may change; most important of those is the Allegheny County real estate assessment system, which right now is in a state of flux.

Click here to review the CIP.


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Will Mt. Lebanon Fall Behind Upper St. Clair?

Some citizens of Mt. Lebanon are notoriously anxious about "keeping up with Upper St. Clair." The Post-Gazette is reporting that the school board in Upper St. Clair has decided to borrow as much as $60 million to renovate schools, because construction bids right now are much lower than the norm. There is no suggestion in the story that the board was motivated by compelling needs to renovate falling-down schools or dangerous conditions, or that teaching conditions have impaired learning outcomes or student performance.

Construction costs may be low for the moment, which is something to consider, but $60 million still sounds like a lot of money to me.

I have to wonder how the move by our neighbors to the South will affect decisionmaking in Mt. Lebanon.
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School Director James Fraasch on the Taylor Report

I have a short stack of older items to catch up on today.

First up:

School Director James Fraasch has posted a lengthy comment on his own blog concerning the Taylor Report. The Taylor Report, as many blog readers and other residents will recall, is the set of materials delivered by Mt. Lebanon resident, structural engineer, and long-time Mt. Lebanon School District consultant Dirk Taylor to the School Board late in July -- which scrutinizes the current recommendations for a comprehensive and expensive reconstruction of Mt. Lebanon High School and finds a host of inaccuracies and omissions.

If you haven't looked the Taylor Report yet, you can find the whole thing online. This link will take you there.

Major kudos are due to Mr. Taylor not only for taking the time to produce this material but for allowing it to be made publicly available. mlt aka Mt. Lebanon magazine occasionally produce a feature on citizens that Mt. Lebanon could not do without; I think that the Taylor Report qualifies Mr. Taylor for a nomination. The decision regarding the high school is far too important, and affects far too many people, for it to be made behind closed doors. Public scrutiny is entirely appropriate, both by individual citizens communicating directly with the School Board and officials of the School District, and in open fora like this blog.

Likewise, kudos are due to Director Fraasch and also to Director Mark Hart (who supplied an initial response to the Taylor Report in a comment to an earlier post here) for timely and public reactions.

The full Board apparently is huddling with its architects and Mr. Taylor before commenting on the Report. I'm optimistic that the full Board will say something about the Report. It is disappointing, however, that the public only knows about the full Board's activity because Bob Williams, now guest posting at Blog Lebo, tracked down that information. The official "High School Renovation" blog, which purports to keep the community informed about major developments in the renovation process, is silent about the existence of the Taylor Report.


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Obituary: Georgie Ann Funk

Anyone who attended Mt. Lebanon High School between 1970 and 1994 will remember Miss Ann Funk who taught English as well as served as the sponsor of "The Log", the official yearbook of the high school.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family at this time.



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Monday, August 10, 2009

Mt. Lebanon Teens Escape Injury In Boating Accident

A group of Mount Lebanon High School graduates were able to avoid serious injury in a boating accident at West Virginia's Cheat Lake over the weekend. Ryan Deer and friends were tubing Sunday afternoon when they saw a large boat speeding toward them.

"I saw it coming and I guess I was trying to make my way toward the back of the boat -- between the windshields there's a walkway to get to the back. When the boat hit, I got stuck between there and crashed into the windshield," said Deer.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Admin Notes About Blog-Lebo

Blog-Lebo is creeping forward into the 21st century: You can now follow the blog via Twitter. Here's the link, if you're a Twitter user:

There are no plans to "tweet"; instead, blog posts will show up as tweets automatically, via the magic of RSS.

I'm not a Twitter fan, so I set up the account somewhat grudgingly and only after learning yesterday that someone else -- not Joe, and not me -- had set up a Twitter account to tweet Blog-Lebo comments. That's the reason for the slightly odd account name. The Twitter account for comments appropriated the BlogLebo name.

I'm not thrilled about this, largely because our "full names, please" comments policy means that your comments are now being tweeted publicly without your knowledge or permission. I could shut down the comments feed. I don't plan to do that. The "full names, please" policy means that commenters are expected to stand behind what they write, and the blog already gets several hundred visits per day -- far more traffic than the Twitter account reflects. So while I'm not thrilled, on balance I can live with it.

The mechanics of Twitter mean that there is no way for me to find out who set up the comments account. Of course, our mystery guest could always identify himself/herself. For the future, however, a request: If you want to remix or repurpose Blog-Lebo content -- other than linking to or quoting blog posts -- please contact me or Joe to discuss it. Thanks.


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Some Retirees Support Mt. Lebanon Concordia Plan

Concordia Lutheran Ministries appears to be a better prospect to own and manage the Covenant at South Hills than a for-profit group that bid $17 million for the bankrupt retirement community in Mt. Lebanon, some residents said Friday.

A creditors' committee that represents elderly residents in about 90 apartments at the Covenant issued a statement yesterday, questioning whether the Fox family, which runs a retirement community in Chester, W.Va., will be able to line up financing to buy Covenant.


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Friday, August 07, 2009

See You at the ULTRAParty on Washington Road Tomorrow Night

I've been out of town for the first two ULTRAParties, so this year I really don't want to miss the fun. Look for me on Washington Road starting around 8 pm. *The ULTRAParty is Saturday, August 8, starting around 8 pm*

Help the Autism Center.



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Important Updates from Commish Dan Miller

Commissioner Dan Miller has blanketed his website with important news and information about what's happening right now in Mt. Lebanon:

A review of the status of RAD funding cuts for the Mt. Lebanon Library

Pushing an initiative regarding the condition of "private streets" in Mt. Lebanon

The Mt. Lebanon Fire Department needs new recruits and citizens to help find them

Community notes (the coming ULTRA Party, the Denis Theater film series, LeboALERT, the Veterans Committee, and an answer to a question that I wouldn't think to ask about staffing snow plows)

Questions and answers about the new "speed humps" on Mapleton and Altoona

Question and answer about "paper streets" or unimproved rights of way in Mt. Lebanon, with a very helpful and informative map of those "paper streets." I take it that this is an authoritative map maintained by the Municipality. (Unfortunately and understandably, it does not indicate either the legal ownership or the beneficial ownership of the rights of way. But it does confirm that they are indeed rights of way and that the Municipality regards them as such, which partly answers a question that has come up on this blog before in connection with private efforts to block access to them.)

An update about the Mt. Lebanon Historical Society

A summary of Mt. Lebanon Fire Department standards for "cover," meaning response times and special risk factors in different zones of Mt. Lebanon.

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Lawmakers Pay Themselves First (But Smith Won't Take It)

State workers will have to wait another week to be paid for days they have worked since July 1, but House Democratic lawmakers have checks in hand. They paid themselves first.

Their paychecks were issued Tuesday as they voted on a $27.3 billion budget, which Gov. Ed Rendell yesterday chopped to $11 billion through line-items vetoes. He left intact funding for such items as public safety, state parks and employees' pay.

At least one House Democrat -- Matt Smith of Mt. Lebanon -- says he won't cash his check until state workers are paid, too.


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Church On Mission Trip In Mt. Lebanon

Praise the Lord and pass the coffee creamer. Doling out free java and spiritual inspiration, Cinda Isler and about nine others were on the front line of the Washington Road commute last week.

"We have a driveway right next to St. Bernard's Church," said Mrs. Isler, a Pittsburgh Theological Seminary student from Mt. Lebanon who combined caffeine with a higher calling.

"People turned in to our parking lot and we have these tents set up and people waiting [to serve]. We give them their coffee and say 'Would you like us to pray for you today?' There hasn't been one person who hasn't said yes."


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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mt. Lebanon Seeks Meeting With Mr. Taylor

Here's another article from guest blogger Bob Williams...

Mt. Lebanon School Board President Alan Silhol said an in-depth study submitted to the school board regarding the high school renovation project has been given to the architect for review, with a preliminary report expected later in August.

Furthermore, Silhol said Dirk Taylor has been contacted and asked to meet face-to-face with district architects to go over his study. Mr. Taylor has been a structural engineer for nearly 30 years, with extensive experience in school construction projects. For the past 15 years, Mr. Taylor has been Mt. Lebanon’s “go to” engineer for structural issues in all 10 school buildings.

Mr. Taylor’s examination of one of the schematic designs for the high school project raised several “red flags,” that to him warranted further study before going forward. Mr. Taylor was not critical of the board or of the need to renovate the high school. His concerns are that the board made decisions based on “incomplete or missing data,” and a full review of the facts should take place first.

The lengthy document Mr. Taylor prepared includes drawings and explanation of structural “red flag” issues he saw in his professional capacity. They include but are not limited to walking distances for students, classroom size, building size, temporary classroom pods, athletic spaces and LEED certification.

Mr. Silhol said Mr. Taylor is respected at the district, and has been contacted and asked whether he would meet with the district architects to go over his concerns.
“Yes, we have taken a look at it, and yes, we have given a copy to our architect,” Mr. Silhol said. “I’m glad he did it (the analysis). If he is right, I am all for incorporating his recommendations into the design. He has taken a very long, thoughtful look at the process. We in turn should take a hard look at his study.

“What I would really like to see, is that Dirk to sit with our architects one-on-one and talk about these issues. He (Mr. Taylor) is a smart guy. He knows the building. I don’t agree 100% with everything he said, but there’s no reason we can’t incorporate some of this into the project,” Mr. Silhol said.

Silhol added he isn’t sure which version of the schematic design Mr. Taylor reviewed. He said the walking distance estimates, which Mr. Taylor said were the same or even worse in the proposed building, go completely afoul of what the board was told by former Superintendent John Allison.

“John personally went through the plans, the school, doing measurements,” Mr. Silhol said. “The figures we were given by Dirk are completely opposite of that, and we need to look at those again and try to reach consensus.”

Silhol said he is not happy with the $115 million cost figure the board has been given to renovate the high school.

“We’d like to get figures closer to reality based on today’s values. I’m not happy with $115 million, I’m not happy with $100 million either. We need to get these numbers down further. We are in the middle of a recession. The numbers we’ve seen so far are just too high,” Mr. Silhol said.

He may have reason to expect lower costs.Upper St. Clair just received bids for the middle schools renovation project which were 20 percent under estimate. With a $60-$70 million estimate in USC, 20 percent is a substantial reduction in the budget.
Silhol said the board is presently awaiting a report on geotechnical studies, which will show whether the area slated for the new wing can sustain the building. While not a determinative factor, the geo tech studies from the natatorium several years ago were not entirely favorable, he said.

Mr. Taylor is apparently on vacation at this time. Mr. Silhol said he couldn’t think of any reason that he would not meet with the architects to go over his findings. Upon his return, the meeting will be scheduled.

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Mt. Lebanon Woman's Character Full Of Fighting Spirit

During her senior year at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown in 1994, Jody Billingsley walked into her basketball coaches' office with her face cut, discolored and swollen from a serious car crash. "I'm really bad," she told her coaches, "but I'm going to play." True to her word, Billingsley strapped on a protective mask and never missed a game.

"That was the kind of kid she was," said Pitt-Johnstown's former coach Jodi Gault, who kept a picture of Billingsley's swollen face on her desk to inspire recruits. "She was a winner. You don't find those kinds of kids anymore."

Billingsley, 37, of Mt. Lebanon died Tuesday night at the LA Fitness center in Collier from a bullet wound in the upper back and perforated thoracic aorta, the Medical Examiner's Office said. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Timothy Hartle Funeral Home in Franklin, Venango County.


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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Lebo Resident Among Shooting Victims

All of Mt. Lebanon mourns the victims of last night's tragedy in Collier, including Lebo resident Jody Billingsley, who was identified today as one of three women killed in the attack.



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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Realism About the Taylor Report on the Lebo HS Renovation

For background, refer to this post and this earlier post about recent, devastating criticism of the School Board's approach to the Mt. Lebanon High School renovation project. From this point forward, I'll refer to the criticism as the "Taylor Report," after its author, Dirk Taylor.

Here is today's realism:

Does anyone expect this to change anything?

For months, even years, a majority of the School Board has resisted any and every argument about the high school project that consisted of anything but "we need a brand new facility." A majority of the School Board has clearly rejected putting the project to a public vote. It's been a week since Mr. Taylor delivered his report. There has been no move by the Board or the Superintendent even to publicly acknowledge its receipt -- though I know, from private emails, that they have it. It's likely that some people are on vacation (I was), and some people have jobs where late July and early August is the beginning of an especially busy professional period. But the entire Board?

I'm realistic. I don't expect anything from the Board except a continuing march forward with the current (ever more elaborate and expensive) plan. If you have more faith than I do, then I suggest this: Keep up the comments here. But go a step further. Many of you know members of the Board personally. Reach out to them. Encourage them to accept the Taylor Report as constructive criticism, and to respond to it. Ignoring it just polarizes the community.

And one more thing:

Has anyone asked the teaching staff what *they* think of the current renovation proposal?


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A Quick Clarification on the Comment Policy

A station break:

This is a reminder and clarification of the Commenting Policy here at Blog-Lebo. When opinions are running hot and heavy, commenters are sometimes prone to taking a shortcut here or there with respect to our bedrock principle:

Sign your full name.

If you post a comment and it doesn't appear on the site, then it is almost always the case that you haven't identified yourself adequately.

If you have a Blogger profile and log in to Blogger before commenting, that will do fine -- so long as your Blogger profile is displayed publicly. A couple of people submitted comments recently under "private" Blogger profiles, and they are in the process of changing their Blogger settings so that everyone can see who they are.

Some folks have taken to signing their first initials and last names (and in one or two cases, first name and last initial), and we've published those comments, because we know who you are.

But it's time to restore some consistency and tighten things up just a bit:

When you comment, please post your full first name and your last name. Typing your full name at the bottom of your comment is fine. Even if you've commented previously under a short form of your name, we're likely to reject new comments that aren't posted under your complete names.

Thanks for your understanding. We'll now resume regular programming, already in progress.


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Sunday, August 02, 2009

More on Blockbuster Criticism of the Lebo High School Proposal

In this post the other day, I quoted a recent letter to the Mt. Lebanon School Board and Superintendent from structural engineer and Mt. Lebanon resident Dirk Taylor, criticizing the proposal to build a new high school in clear and blunt terms.

I have finally found time to post complete copies of Mr. Taylor's letter and the related materials that he prepared and delivered. Here they are:

Letter to Dr. Steinhauer

Detailed comments on the schematic drawing for the project

Foundation 11x17

Section 11x17

Like many Mt. Lebanon residents, I'm looking forward to the School Board's response to the letter and the related comments, and I'm expecting that the response will be as thorough, thoughtful, and public as this material is.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Several Local Post Offices May Close For Good

The U.S. Postal Service is considering closing a bunch of local post offices as part of its ongoing national consolidation effort to save money.

"We are in a situation now where we are looking at everything to reduce the costs so we do not have to increase our rates to the American public," said Tad Kelley, spokesman in Pittsburgh.

The 13 local offices on the list:

• Allegheny Station, 395 Federal St., North Side
• Arsenal Branch, 186 42nd St., Lawrenceville
• Brookline Station, 612 Brookline Blvd.
• Corliss Branch, 651 Hillsboro St., Sheraden
• Etna Branch, 335 Butler St.
• Homewood Branch, 566 Brushton Ave.
• Millvale Station, 205 Lincoln Ave.
• Mt. Lebanon, 714 Washington Road
• Neville Island, 115 Second St.
• Uptown Branch, 1402 Fifth Ave.
• Veteran's Hospital Branch, University Drive C
• West Mifflin Branch, 5001 Homeville Road
• Wilkinsburg Carrier Facility, 5000 Andrews Drive



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