Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mt. Lebanon Votes To Submit Renovation Plans To State

Nearly two hours of public comments preceded a vote Monday night by the Mt. Lebanon school board on whether to submit materials related to the planned $113.3 million high school renovation project to the state Department of Education.

More than 25 residents spoke before the vote, with some calling for the board to move ahead with the project and others asking the board to scale back costs.

The school board voted 7-2 in favor of sending materials from an Act 34 hearing held in February on the project to Harrisburg. The materials include the transcript of the hearing, which laid out the scope and cost of the project and allowed time for public comment. It also includes a description of the project and all comments delivered to the school district regarding the project

Read more: www.postgazette.com/pg/10103/1050041-100.stm

Read more: www.postgazette.com/pg/10105/1050473-55.stm (Added April 15, 2010)

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Blogger Chris said...

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There can be a disagreement about the utility of a $75 million renovation-only option, but we must be discussing facts. Similarly, if a member of the board is going to present an analysis of the potential renovation-only costs as a balanced assessment, it should in fact be a balanced assessment. At many points, Mr. Remely's analysis was clearly slanted against a renovation-only approach:

A) Mr. Remely's renovation-only budget uses a $7.5 million dollar contingency, or 10% of the total budget. The Act 34 document submitted for the current design uses a contingency of $4.381 million, or just 3.8% of the total $113 million project cost. If we use that same amount of contingency for the renovation-only option, we only need a contingency of $2.85 million which frees up $4.65 million for other things.

B) Mr. Remely used the numbers from the Act 34 submission as the basis for the renovation-only estimate he presented last night. Earlier, at the Act 34 hearing, Mr. Remely assured the public that the $113 million project would almost certainly come in at $95 million - a savings of over 15%. If Mr. Remely believes there is a 15% savings to be had from the current market and purchasing strategies, why wouldn't they be employed on a renovation-only option? The 3,300 people who signed the petition have effectively told the board that they support spending up to $75 million on the high school, meaning that any savings below the $75 million could be used for the project. In this case, that would be another $11.25 million that could be spent on the project.

If you add the $4.65 million in unneeded contingency to the $11.25 million in potential savings Mr. Remely has previously discussed, you're left with an extra $15.9 million to spend on the project - significantly more than the $13.25 million shortfall that was presented last night. In other words, using Mr. Remely's numbers from last night the project can be done for $75 million.

-Chris Brown

April 13, 2010 7:54 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I just sent this to the school board:

At last night's school board meeting, and again today on Ms. Posti's blog there has been a concerted effort on the part of some school board members to "prove" that a project cannot be done for $75 million. This is a debateable point, but some of the supporting arguments put forth by school board members are certainly false:

1) "A complete renovation would not solve the zoning issues currently pending." Actually, the opposite is true - the zoning hearing board was willing to allow the continuation of a non-conforming use, it was the fact that the current plan significantly changes the building's footprint that required it to meet the current lot coverage requirements. There is a specific exclusion in the zoning ordinance for renovation only projects. In other words, a renovation only project would be allowed to remain at the current lot coverage - by ordinance and not as a matter of interpretation or variance.

2) "A renovation-only project could not be LEED certified and we would lose the associated state reimbursement money." This is completely false. The truth is in the very name of the type of certification for which the project would be applying: "LEED 2009 for Schools: New Construction and Major Renovations." In fact, you can get 2 LEED points if you keep more than 95% of an existing building.

3) "A renovation-only project would keep energy costs at a similar level to our current costs." At the same time this argument is being made, it is also being pointed out that the renovation would have to bring the walls and windows up to code and spend over $60 per square foot to upgrade and replace mechanical systems. With these types of upgrades included in the renovation, the energy savings would be very significant. In fact, I see little to nothing in the current design that would increase the energy savings much beyond a renovation-only option - both would have significant energy savings.

I would ask that members of the school board stop bringing up these points against the renovation-only option, since there is no question that they are false.

-Chris Brown

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April 13, 2010 7:54 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

I could see how a $75M project might actually need a higher contingency than the $113M project.

April 13, 2010 8:41 PM  
Blogger Chris said...


You're right that sometimes a smaller, more renovation-oriented project will have a larger contingency in percentage terms. However, Mr. Remely's budget uses a larger contingency for the renovation-only option in both percentage and actual dollar amount terms - in spite of the $38 million dollar differential in actual dollar terms. That just doesn't make any sense.

In this case, I think it is more important for the larger ($113 million) project to have a larger contingency. Keep in mind that this project is just below the referendum limit and that if unexpected costs add more than a few percent to the project, work will have to stop on the project while a referendum vote is taken. Also keep in mind that even on a well run project change orders during construction usually run between 1-2% of the construction costs. A 3.8% contingency doesn't give us much room in terms of the bids that may come in higher than expected or changes that will arise during construction.

-Chris Brown

April 14, 2010 7:30 AM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

On Monday, the Board went to great lengths to detail why the high school project could not be done for $75 million. In essence, Mr Remely suggested that it's just not enough money to do what needs to be done (or at least what everyone wants to be done). Maybe I'm just hearing or reading this wrong, but he also seemed to suggest that $89 million really wouldn't get us there either.

Now, I'm really confused because Mr. Remely has gone to great lengths to assure me that he will cut the total project cost by 15-20% (which is a range of about $17-22 million using the $113 million cap).

So to sum up, $75 million doesn't get us there, and $89 million doesn't get us there. However, if we assume that Mr. Remely can save us about $20 million as he projects, then $93 million should be the "just right" number, right?

Does it strike anyone else as odd that that number is a heckuva lot closer to the $89 million bad number, than it is to $113 million good number.

Help! Trust me, I'm not trying to spread bad information or distort the facts. Instead, I'm merely trying to decipher the information that has been provided to me by the Board. If my analysis is wrong or incomplete, then please feel free to corect me.

April 14, 2010 10:13 AM  
Anonymous John Ewing said...

We have an architect, Chris Brown, who says this project can be done for $75,000,000 using Remely's numbers from the April 12, 2010 school board meeting.

And we have a quote from the district's structural engineer, Dirk Taylor, under "Neighbor's Comments" at blog www.lebocitizens.com saying the building can be done for $72,000,000 to $75,000,000. Mr. Taylor says:

“As indicated in my February 18th letter to the School Board, it is my opinion that – using the Construction Manager’s numbers – a well designed and managed renovation could achieve total updates of every system in the building, including architectural (windows, doors, roofing, interior finishes, partition relocations, lockers, ADA compliance, etc.), mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and telecommunication systems for about $86 million if every square foot of building space was renovated to “21st Century Standards” as the architects like to say. Basically that means that a well-conceived pure renovation can achieve everything the Board is trying to obtain with their $113 million reconstruction project, but for about $27 million less.

I have also advocated not renovating about 50,000 square feet of existing building space (9% of the total building area) in areas not requiring renovation (in the bowels of Buildings A & C) to cut the cost down to about $79 million. I also believe further cuts can be made, and also firmly believe that the architects would now be telling us that $75 million would buy us the finest High School in Pennsylvania if that was the budget they were given to design around at the start of the project, because at that price it would exceed what was previously the most-expensive public high school construction project in western Pennsylvania history by $3 million.

If we kept to the $38,000 per student expenditure that the most expensive of our neighboring High School Projects at USC, Bethel Park, and Baldwin were designed under, we should be able to bring the project in at around $72,000 million. (According to R.S. Means – the Number One source for building construction cost estimating among design and construction professionals nationally – a “high end” public high school renovation or new construction project should not exceed about $29,000 per student. Yet the cost of our currently proposed $113 million project equates to a ridiculous $55,000 per student!)”
-Dirk Taylor, P.E.

April 14, 2010 1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave Franklin:
You're one of 3,333 taxpayers and growing that want to understand also.
While Mr. Remely's presentation was very theatrical, it was rather short on substance.
Mr. Remely may be right! ALthough Dirk Taylor, a structural engineer, presents compelling evidence to the contrary.
SO how do we ordinary taxpayers decipher the facts?
We can't!!! The board took all of about 2 minutes to discuss citizens comments and questions then voted 7 to 2 to move on!
If you have any ideas where we go from here, I'd love to read 'em.
Dean Spahr

April 14, 2010 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I placed a large stack of signatures in front of Mr. Kubit the other night at the school board meeting. There were 3,333 people/voices standing in front of him, and I was one of them. It doesn't matter what we want or think. It doesn't matter what Dirk Taylor says. We are dealing with a school board majority that says that it HAS to be done their way. I have a problem with anyone who tells me that something can only be done one way.
Elaine Gillen

April 14, 2010 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Ms. Posti's Center Court, here is the list of items which can be included in the high school project if the cost is maintained at $113,000,000 as recommended by the board. "At the project's current projected budget of $113 million or $18 per month more than the initial bond for a house assessed at $200,000 we will:
1.Develop appropriately sized classrooms, labs, and adjacencies
2.Reduce square footage to reflect our current and future enrollment needs
3.Build large-group space for collaborative instruction
4.Improve band, orchestra and chorus rehearsal space
5.Develop appropriate fine arts space
6.Centralize the library
7.Build ESL and special education space that is appropriately located to encourage inclusion
8.Meet all ADA requirements, including centralized elevators
9.Decrease the number of entrances and install security cameras, improving security
10.Position services near the entrances
11.House gyms in one location, improving gym security to the competition gym
12.Build an 8-lane pool
13.Increase the size of the wrestling room
14.Improve locker room spaces, eliminating the need for the current field house
15.Obtain Silver LEED certification
16.Decrease energy costs
17.Develop natural daylighting
18.Reduce the number of cafeterias to one and provide staging for the elementary lunch program
19Completely renovate both theaters
20.Renovate central office and community-use space"
How are we to believe that all of these can be accomplished for $24 million ($113 minus $89 million)?
It was a well scripted presentation, but not believable.
Joe Wertheim


April 14, 2010 5:02 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Please indulge me for a second . . . there are some in this community who would argue that those who oppose a $113 million renovation project are fear mongers, who are out to do nothing but harm our community. However, those same folks think nothing of posting pictures on their website of asbestos pipes at the high school in an attempt to scare people into believing that this building is the equivalent of the Homestead mill circa 1950. The TRUTH is that asbestos is everywhere. Given the age of our homes, many Mt. Lebanon residents probably have some form of it somewhere where they live. Have you ever looked for an abatement specialist in the Yellow Pages? Of course not.

In fact, asbestos is so prevalent in schools around the country that the Federal government took specific steps more than 2 decades ago to address it. Specifically, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) became law in 1986. AHERA requires local education agencies to inspect their schools for asbestos-containing building material and prepare management plans to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards. All public school districts and non-profit private schools are subject to AHERA's requirements. Since common sense tells us that most school districts don't need to (or don't have the ability to) abate what is otherwise harmless asbestos, AHERA established certain requirements that all schools, including ours, must follow. Specifically, AHERA requires local education agencies to take actions to:

Perform an original inspection and re-inspection every three years of asbestos-containing material;

Develop, maintain, and update an asbestos management plan and keep a copy at the school;

Provide yearly notification to parent, teacher, and employee organizations regarding the availability of the school's asbestos management plan and any asbestos abatement actions taken or planned in the school;

Designate a contact person to ensure the responsibilities of the local education agency are properly implemented;

Perform periodic surveillance of known or suspected asbestos-containing building material;

Ensure that properly-accredited professionals perform inspections and response actions and prepare management plans; and

Provide custodial staff with asbestos-awareness training.

Any renovation of the high school will undoubtedly involve some level of asbestos abatement. That's just good common sense. However, to suggest that our students are somehow at risk because of the asbestos currently in the building, and then to further the argument by suggesting that the $113 million plan is the only plan to address asbestos abatement, is disingenuous.

April 15, 2010 2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"to suggest that our students are somehow at risk because of the asbestos currently in the building, and then to further the argument by suggesting that the $113 million plan is the only plan to address asbestos abatement, is disingenuous."
It's more than disingenuous, it's Real Lebo's form of fear mongering and a blatent attempt to frighten the community.
Joe Wertheim

April 15, 2010 5:36 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...


That's a good presentation of AHERA, but your point that "asbestos is everywhere" ignores the important distinction between friable and non-friable asbestos. Although I am am environmental professional, asbestos is not my specialty, so some of what follows may be a little off, but I've been around asbestos projects and worked with enough specialists that I’m confident I can shed some light.

1. We should not talk about asbestos, but rather about asbestos-containing materials (ACM). One definition of ACM is material that contains 1% or more of asbestos fibers. To determine the percentage of asbestos fibers in a material, small samples of suspected ACM are examined under a microscope using the Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) method. Asbestos fibers reflect the polarized light differently. Other more precise and more expensive methods are available when needed, such as when there is a large amount of material that would be costly to abate and PLM results are just above 1%.

2. There are two kinds of ACM: friable and non-friable. Friable means it is easily crumbled and could release fibers into the air, which is where they are dangerous. Old pipe insulation, old spray-on insulation, or crumbling floor tiles are common examples of friable ACM. Non-friable ACM is in a more or less intact state and does not release fibers into the air. Solid floor tile and floor tile mastic and intact window caulk or roof flashing are examples of non-friable ACM.

3. Friable ACM should be abated immediately. Abatement means removal of ACM by a contractor under specific engineering controls such as a negative pressure containment with a HEPA filters on the blowers. The Allegheny County Health Department's regulations govern abatement activities in our area.

4. Non-friable asbestos can be managed. Management plans identify the ACM in a structure and appoint a person to be responsible for making sure that repairs, renovations or other activities do not inadvertently disturb ACM and so cause an uncontrolled release of fibers into the air. If work is needed in an area, a small abatement of the affected material can be performed.

5. Generally as long as a management plan is in place non-friable ACM does not need to be abated. However, building demolition is considered make ACM friable and so all ACM has to be abated prior to demolition, and similarly for renovation that would disturb the ACM. Also, even when renovation would not disturb ACM, the renovation event is often considered to be a good opportunity to get rid of it anyway, because non-friable asbestos today will eventually become friable.

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April 15, 2010 10:23 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

(2 of 2)

So, back to the picture of the leaking pipe. Clearly the pipe insulation is ACM because someone is managing it and has smartly put a warning label on it. The passage of water through the insulation is almost certainly degrading it. If any bits of it are being suspended in the water as it drips through, then when the water puddles on the floor and evaporates the ACM particles remain to be suspended into the air as wrestlers shuffle their feet about. So I would call this ACM friable, and therefore a health hazard, and I'm pretty sure most other environmental professionals would do the same. I'm actually a little shocked to see the photo and I've seen a lot in my career. Not that it's such a huge deal but it's clearly wrong and clearly around children. If someone is waiting to abate this because they think the whole renovation is just around the corner, maybe they aren't so smart after all.

Of course, whether one pipe is or is not leaking has little to do with whether our new school should cost $75M or $113M. But I have to back up Ms. Linfante on this one. This pipe is a health hazard.

April 15, 2010 10:24 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

All of the asbestos would be removed with the $75 million option and all of the asbestos would be removed with the $113 million option.

April 15, 2010 11:23 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I appreciate Mr. Brown's assessment of the asbestos in the picture. I know little about asbestos and he convinced me that this is a problem.

However, as Chris indicated, the asbestos is going to be removed regardless of which project is chosen. As several people have said before, there is no argument that the school is in poor condition. The argument is how much we're going to pay over and above the amount that would repair the situation.

The writers at RealLebo complain about the "misinformation" around the project. However, I don't see any such misinformation here. Everyone agrees that there is asbestos to be fixed!

April 16, 2010 12:55 AM  
Blogger Marjie said...

Other than waiting for the renovation and having it as a continuing example of why renovation is needed (be it $75 mil or $113 mil), what has prevented the district from fixing this one pipe with friable asbestos? I get the feeling many singular repairs have been ignored in the name of selling the renovation project as a whole.

April 16, 2010 9:32 AM  
Anonymous Bill Lewis said...


The District has been sitting on a separate Asbestos Fund of some $1.6 million restricted or earmarked only for abatement for a number of years, at least since the completion of the elementary schools renovations in/about 2006. There has been some minor abatement at the HS whenever repairs reveal, expose or disturb existing asbestos.

It is absolutely true that significant repair & maintenance has been deferred over many years...the District has admitted to some $12 million worth...in anticipation (and to likely bolster their support when things don't work right as a result)of the renovation project. The Asbestos Fund will seemingly fund some of the estimated $6.5 million in asbestos abatement costs for the HS project.

April 16, 2010 10:24 AM  
Anonymous john Ewing said...

Marje, we have had the asbestos abatement fund since before the middle schools were built in 1998. The fund is dedicated to asbestos removal in the high school.

If we have dangerous asbestos around students then the Administrator the Facilities Department repots to needs to be replaced. See the organization chart in the District Budget to see who is in charge of the Facilities Department. It is not the superintendent.

April 16, 2010 1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone interested in AHERA should check out:

That webpage contains a direct link to "How to Manage Asbestos in School Buildings - AHERA Designated Person's Self-study Guide (PDF) (103 pp, 653K) (January 1996)

A direct link to the AHERA-relevant CFR (Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 40, Part 763, Subpart E) is

During the elementary renovations, Mt. Lebanon School District failed miserably on four of the seven required actions listed in Dave Franklin's 2:05pm April 15 post. Asbestos mismanagement is not a reasonable justification for the current $113 million high school project plan that is likely to exacerbate the District's problems with asbestos mismanagement and increase airborne asbestos levels in the high school.

The cure for asbestos mismanagement is proper practices, not heads in the sand or false claims that the high school is falling down.

--Pam Scott

April 19, 2010 12:33 AM  

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